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Ben Simmons’ third-quarter spark lifts Sixers over Hawks

Simmons recorded 21 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and a block to lead the Sixers past Atlanta.

Ben Simmons scored 21 points and collected 12 rebounds and nine assists to power the Sixers to a win over Atlanta Monday night.
Ben Simmons scored 21 points and collected 12 rebounds and nine assists to power the Sixers to a win over Atlanta Monday night.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

The 76ers were unwatchable for a half.

Maybe it had to do with facing an Atlanta Hawks squad coached by former Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce, who knows their weaknesses. Or maybe the team was just off.

But thanks to Ben Simmons, the Sixers were able to take a 113-92 victory Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.  The point guard scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter.  His play enabled the Sixers (4-3) to outscore Atlanta, 31-13, in the decisive quarter to take a 78-60 advantage.  Simmons also finished  with 12 rebounds, nine assists, and one block for his fifth double-double of the season.

"We just needed a spark," Simmons said of his third-quarter performance. "I was able to provide that for the team. I told guys to keep running with me. I'll find them."

The 2017-18 rookie of the year also recorded three of his assists and his block in the third quarter.

The Hawks (2-4) didn't help their cause by making just 6 of 24 shots (25 percent) — including 1 of 9 three-pointers — in the third quarter.

"I thought we had some good looks that didn't go down," Pierce said. "We had a couple of lapses defensively to start the third quarter."

While Simmons had a solid performance, Joel Embiid had his worst game of the season.  The All-Star finished with season lows of 10 points and six rebounds to go with six assists. He made just 3 of 9 shots and committed four turnovers.

"That was our game plan going in, figuring out a way to stop Joel," Hawks rookie point guard Trae Young said. "He had I think 10 points. So we did our job on him, and he's a great player."

This marked the first time Embiid failed to finish with at least 23 points and 10 rebounds this season. He went into the matchup averaging 29.2 points and 12.7 rebounds.

Embiid was unavailable for comment after leaving the locker room before postgame media availability.

Dario Saric also struggled. The power forward was held to four points while making 1 of 9 shots. He missed all five of his three-pointers and all six of his first-half shots. His lone basket came on his seventh shot, a layup with 7 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third quarter.

Markelle Fultz finished with 16 points. Mike Muscala scored 14 points while making 4 of 6 three-pointers against his former team.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 18 points. Young, Dewayne Dedmon, and Omari Spellman added 11 apiece.

The Sixers crowd voiced its displeasure with the team's first-half effort.

There were some scattered boos after a Saric miss late in the second quarter. The Sixers left the court to boos at the half with the scored tied at 47. At the time, they were shooting 33.3 percent and had 10 turnovers.

The crowd booed again following Embiid's turnover with 9:54 left in the third quarter. It was the Sixers' 11th of 19 turnovers on the night.

But the boos turned to cheers as Simmons took over.

This game was a homecoming for several Hawks, including Pierce.

The rebuilding team hired him on May 11 after a 24-58 season to duplicate the Sixers' turnaround in "The ATL."

This marked his first game against his former team.

"I'm just reminded of how cold it is. I'm used to Atlanta weather now," Pierce jokingly said of playing in Philly after Monday morning's shootaround. "Nah, it's good. This is home for me for five years. It's a special place."

Villanova coach Jay Wright attended the Hawks shootaround, visiting former Wildcat Spellman, the 30th pick in this year's NBA draft.

Being back in Philadelphia reminded Pierce of Wright and the Wildcats' winning two of the last three NCAA men's basketball national championships. He also was reminded of the Eagles' winning the Super Bowl.

In addition to Pierce and Spellman, this was a homecoming for former Sixer Justin Anderson and St. Joe's standout DeAndre' Bembry.  The Sixers acquired Muscala  from the Hawks in the three-team trade that sent Anderson to Atlanta.

Two other Hawks have ties to the Sixers — reserve center Dedmon and assistant coach Greg Foster.

Dedmon played 11 games for Philly during the 2013-14 season. Foster was the Sixers' big-man coach that season.

But Monday's game was a business trip.  The Hawks did what they did the first five games — play hard. Pierce demands that.

It's something the Sixers were recognized for during the lean years of the rebuilding process.

Pierce was on the Sixers' coaching staff from the fall of 2013 until May.

Under his guidance last season, the Sixers had one of the league's top defenses. They were tied for sixth with the Miami Heat in opponent field-goal percentage at 44.9 percent. The Sixers were 10th in the league in points allowed per game, averaging 106.

He also had a hand in developing Robert Covington into a first-team NBA all-defensive selection.

"That's my guy," the Sixers small forward said. "He put in so much time into all of this, building both of our careers. He's gotten to where he is based off of what he's doing with us. I've gotten to where I'm at based off of the work we put in together."