It was one of the most highly anticipated games of the young season for the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons, once hoped to be the prize of the Process, would be playing on the hardwood in Philadelphia for the first time since his infamous performance with the Sixers in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.
While fans had purchased their tickets months in advance and the eventual reunion was a recurring topic of discussion for even longer, the evening would not play out how anyone would have expected. First and foremost, despite questions about Ben Simmons’ availability for the game, it was actually the Sixers’ stars who would not take the court.
James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Joel Embiid would all miss the matchup due to various lower-body injuries, which would take the wind out of the home crowd’s sails initially. It’s not hard to blame them, either. One of the highlights was to be Joel Embiid facing off against his old frenemy. Another would be the matchup of the once highly-touted prospect (Simmons) against Philadelphia’s new fresh-faced star (Tyrese Maxey). Finally, there was the matchup between Simmons, and the player the Sixers traded him for not once but twice (so the legend goes). Come game time; however, none of this storyline would play out.
Instead, the Sixers appeared to be limping to the tip-off with just two of their opening-day starters — as many would argue, the two least crucial. They would certainly prove crucial tonight, however, as the performances of Tobias Harris and P.J. Tucker helped to fuel the Sixers to their eventual victory.
Welcome home Ben Simmons
Early on, the game progressed a bit, as expected. Ben Simmons was booed early and often and then booed some more, not to mention the frequent “F*** Ben Simmons” chants that would pop up at any moment of opportunity. Whether he made a play or simply brought the ball up, Philadelphia’s phaithful was in full force to remind their former All-Star that they were present, and with a grudge at that.
The negative energy the fans exhibited towards Simmons was also channeled into positive energy for their underdog Sixers, who, much like the teams of the process years, had the odds stacked up against them facing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. None of that seemed to matter, though, as the team built of role players played perfectly in their adjusted roles leading to one of Philadelphia’s most efficient games of the season.
A barrage from beyond
As a unit, the Sixers shot just 43.3% from the field but a pleasantly surprising 50% from beyond the arc (16/32). Much of this was thanks to Georges Niang (16 points) and his 4/5 night from deep. It wasn’t just Niang, though as De’Anthony Melton enjoyed his own efficient night knocking down 6 of his 11 three-point shot attempts.
Melton’s night was about more than just his shooting, though, as he led the team as one of the team’s premier playmakers, doing his part to ensure the ball touched the hands of all of his teammates. The stellar offseason addition continues to make his maker for this Philadelphia 76ers team on both ends of the court.
PJ Tucker did the dirty work
Speaking of offseason additions, many will look at PJ Tucker’s box stats (0/6 from the field) and take issue with his continued lack of scoring. This is completely ignoring the reason Tucker was brought to Philadelphia in the first place. Yes, there was hope that he would contribute with shots from the corner, but the ability to defend some of the NBA’s most tenacious forwards is the reason why he is expected to be such an important player for the team in the postseason.
Tucker’s effort tonight defending one of the top players in the NBA, Kevin Durant, was nothing short of stellar. They say Durant is the type of player you try to hold to 30 — signifying their elite scoring ability — but PJ Tucker took it a step further, holding the perennial MVP candidate to just 20 points on the night.
He likely won’t receive the gold star he deserves for the job he did tonight — though the team certainly recognizes his importance, PJ Tucker managed to have one of the most positively impactful games (+12) for the Sixers without scoring a single point.
The Paul Reed victory tour begins yet again
From one of the Sixers’ oldheads to one of their most young and raw players, Paul Reed had himself a night. With 19 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes of work off the bench, tonight was easily one of Reed’s best with the Sixers.
His performance even impressed Doc Rivers, who not only made the wise — if not obvious — decision to stick with the young reserve over one of his own veterans, Montrezl Harrell. While Harrell started off with energy and hustle, providing six quick points and six offensive rebounds, he was unable to provide much else that Reed couldn’t, and the further the game progressed, the more obvious it became that Bball Paul should see the majority of minutes — both in this game, and going forward.
Yes, it was a great night for Paul Reed truthers, but nobody was more excited for Reed than his own teammates, De’Anthony Melton and Tobias Harris, who sang his praises to the media postgame.
Tobias Harris’ heroic effort
Many players deserve a game ball for their efforts tonight. De’Anthony Melton, Paul Reed, PJ Tucker, Georges Niang; so many were crucial to the Sixers’ victory. And yet, there is one player who stands taller than the rest in this matter.
In a game that saw Harris — who just came back from a hip injury — start off a bit uneven, the turnaround soon became real for the Sixers’ forgotten star, surprisingly after an injury, he sustained early in the second half. Despite the lingering hip strain and newly sprained ankle, Harris would take a moment to meditate in the hallway (among other recovery methods) and come out even more determined than he previously had. He was not about to let his team down.
Harris would put his mark on the game in the second half, scoring 18 points in the final two quarters. The detractors are not hard to find when it comes to those critical of Tobias Harris. In some cases, it’s justified. $37M+ is a lot to spend on any player, let alone a team’s fourth option. But when it comes to what Harris can actually control, he’s done all that’s asked of him and more.
Constantly growing into the latest role asked of him, the improvements defensively, and the obvious leadership on and off the court, Tobias Harris is not just some role player for the Philadelphia 76ers; he’s arguably a vital organ.
Just hear how Harris talks about his approach to this game and to his teammates ahead of, and even during, the matchup.
Despite the recurring trade rumors surrounding Harris, no move can be made responsibly without a positive return. Harris is far too crucial to this team both on and off the hardwood, and he proved that once again tonight.
Up next for the Sixers
The Sixers will have no time to rest, immediately heading down to Charlotte to face the Hornets in the second game of a back-to-back. There’s no current word on the status of Matisse Thybulle (ankle) and Tobias Harris (ankle) though the feeling is that the former will sit while the latter powers through — depending on how he feels tomorrow, of course.
Philadelphia will not be the only shorthanded squad, as the Hornets will be without both LaMelo Ball and Cody Martin.
Tip-off is at 7:00 PM tomorrow as the Sixers play their last game ahead of the holiday.