After losing four straight on the road, the 76ers have won two in a row at home, including their 109-98 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
That was the first Sixers game played without Joel Embiid since he suffered a torn ligament in his left hand Monday during a 120-113 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Sixers improved to 3-0 this season against Boston, and for their performance, they get practice off Friday. Then it’s back to the road, beginning with Saturday’s game against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
A key question is who will play center besides Al Horford in Embiid’s absence Thursday, none other than point guard Ben Simmons spent time in the five spot. It goes to show that Simmons could play any position in the NBA.
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In Embiid’s absence, the prevailing thought was that Simmons would have to step up his game, one All-Star picking up for another.
Did anybody actually think Simmons would play Embiid’s position?
That is what happened against the Celtics. With Embiid not taking up space near the basket, Simmons posted up more frequently and had great success.
He finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three turnovers in a game-high 38 minutes and 42 seconds. Simmons shot 9-for-15 from the field and 1-for-4 from the foul line. No, he didn’t attempt a three-pointer — for the 14th consecutive game. Then again, does a team want its centers taking threes? (Only kidding.)
Asked about playing center, Simmons didn’t think it was a big deal.
“I just play,” Simmons said. “I don’t really look at positions. If you can play, you can play. Just tried to make the right play.”
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Simmons was asked about the difficulty of guarding centers. Again, he didn’t think it was a big deal.
“I don’t mind guarding the big guys,” he said. “I got a little bit of strength myself.”
Coach Brett Brown talked about how Simmons at center can prosper in a pick-and-roll setting, where he can go to the basket and score or kick it out to an open shooter.
“I have wanted to try Ben at five and we did, and I suspect you will be seeing that again,” Brown said.
Thursday’s game marked the fourth time this season that the Sixers overcame a deficit of at least 15 points to win. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that ties the Los Angeles Lakers and the Thunder for the most 15-plus-point comeback wins in the NBA this season.
Here are the four comeback games for the Sixers:
Jan. 9: Sixers 109, Boston 98. The Sixers trailed by 15 points with 5:05 left in the second quarter. They cut the deficit to seven points by halftime and to three after three quarters before outscoring Boston by 32-18 in the fourth quarter, when Josh Richardson scored 14 of his game-high 29 points.
Nov. 29: Sixers 101, NY Knicks 96. With less than a minute left in the first half, the Sixers trailed by 16 points at Madison Square Garden. The Sixers cut the lead to 12 by halftime and actually led, 70-68, entering the fourth quarter. This was Norvel Pelle’s NBA debut, and he finished with three points and four blocked shots.
Nov. 20: Sixers 109, Knicks 104. The visiting Knicks led by 17 points after rookie RJ Barrett scored on a dunk with 4:15 left in the third quarter. The Sixers cut it to 79-74 after the third quarter before winning the game in the fourth. Embiid scored 12 of his 23 points in the decisive final period.
Nov. 2: Sixers 129, Portland 128. Portland led by 21 points after Damian Lillard hit a three-pointer with 5:04 left in the third quarter. The visiting Sixers eventually won on Furkan Korkmaz’s three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left.
Tomorrow: Sixers at Dallas Mavericks, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Monday: Sixers at Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Wednesday: Brooklyn Nets at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN
Jan. 17: Chicago Bulls at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN
Jan. 18: Sixers at New York Knicks, 7:30 p.m. NBA Sports Philadelphia
Question/comment: Never wanna see someone get hurt, however now we can really see what Ben Simmons is made of. This injury is not necessarily a bad thing for the Sixers. — Antoine Miller on Twitter.
Answer: It looks as if Simmons is truly up for the challenge. You saw it as we referenced earlier, that he even played center and did well.
“Obviously, we are going to miss Joel for however long it is. He is a huge part of this team, and tonight was a good start,” Simmons said.
It’s not so much about whether this team is Embiid’s or Simmons', but the styles are different with the two. Without Embiid, the Sixers will play more of a transition game. They outscored the Celtics, 19-7 in fast-break points Thursday, and Simmons was a big part of it.
As he said, they will miss Embiid, but Simmons seems up to the challenge to prove that the team can hold things together and he can be a true leader in Embiid’s absence.