SALT LAKE CITY — Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris stepped up in Joel Embiid’s absence.
It just wasn’t enough against the red-hot Utah Jazz. Utah defeated the 76ers, 134-123, Monday night at the Vivint Arena on a night when Simmons and Harris combined to score 78 points.
Simmons finished with a career-high 42 points to go with 12 assists and nine rebounds. The two-time All-Star shot 15-for-26 from the field and made 12 of 13 foul shots. His 15 made field goals were a career high.
“Forty-two, 12 and nine,” coach Doc Rivers said. “You know, honestly, he had to be. I didn’t know we were going to get the 42 points out of him. But he did everything. He guarded. He did a good job. He played with pace.”
Harris added a season-high 36 points to go with 10 rebounds.
Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to lead the Jazz with 40 points, marking the fourth straight game Philly surrendered at least 30 points to an opposing guard.
The loss dropped the Sixers to 18-10. They finished 1-3 on their four-game West Coast road trip, which concluded with three straight losses.
This matches their longest losing streak of the season. They lost three straight to the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, and Atlanta Hawks from Jan. 7-11. Back then, the Eastern Conference leaders were dealing with injuries and players being in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
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As a result, Simmons, the Sixers’ “facilitator,” started at center in place of Embiid. Mike Scott started at power forward. Harris moved to small forward. Danny Green and Seth Curry slid down to the shooting guard and point guard positions, respectively.
Without Embiid, this outcome was closer than expected.
The Jazz, at 23-5, have the league’s best record. They’ve been close to invincible, winning eight straight and 19 of their last 20 games.
“We anticipated that once Joel scratched that the lineup we put on the floor, we were trying to create a lineup in which [Jazz All-Star center Rudy] Gobert would guard Ben,” Rivers said. “That happened. You know, the key for us was getting stops and getting it up to Ben and getting it up the floor.
“We just felt there’s no way anybody was going to stay with him, especially a center. So I thought Ben handled that very well.”
Simmons’ play was a reason why the game wasn’t decided until late.
This was his most aggressive performance on the season, if not his career. His aggressiveness was the result of the combination of Embiid being sidelined, his role, and facing the Jazz.
“Ben is a guy, he pretty much evaluates the game as he’s playing,” Harris said. “You could see at the beginning of the game he knew he could get by those guys with his speed. We just starting finding different ways to get him the ball.”
Nineteen of the fourth-year veteran’s points came in the first quarter on 7-for-7 shooting. Harris also had a solid first, scoring 14 points.
Thanks to the duo’s combined 33 points, the Sixers took a 42-35 lead into the second quarter. The Sixers shot 72.7% in the first quarter.
“You know, Tobias was phenomenal as well,” Rivers said. “Look at those two guys, man.”
Utah, however, went on to outscore the Sixers by 37-24 in the second quarter to take a 72-66 halftime lead. The Jazz took the lead for good after Derrick Favors made a pair of foul shots to make it a 61-59 with 3 minutes, 48 seconds left in the half.
All-Star Donovan Mitchell had 24 points and Joe Ingles added 20 for the winners.
“It’s a tough loss to take,” Harris said. “But all in all, we were out there playing for each other.”