The Sixers had no problem beating the Chicago Bulls, 115-101, on Australian heritage night at the Wells Fargo Center, improving to 23-21 on the season.
And Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric showed why they deserved being named earlier in the day as members of the NBA’s Rising Stars game. They combined for 62 of the Sixers’ points, and each had standout moments.
After the Sixers’ collapse and loss to Memphis on Monday, coach Brett Brown said his stars didn’t play like stars. That wasn’t the case against Chicago.
“They were really good tonight, and they were really good in the areas that we needed them to be,” Brown said after the win.
Simmons had 11 rebounds in the first quarter, had a double-double by the early minutes of the second quarter, and clearly had no intentions of letting up. With more than 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter, he passed to a wide open Robert Covington, who hit the three-pointer and sealed Simmons’ fifth triple-double of the season.
Though he admitted he was being more aggressive by going for rebounds and trying to attack, Simmons gave credit to the Sixers’ shooters for making him look good.
“They were playing great,” Simmons said. “My team was knocking down shots. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have triple doubles.”
Simmons was 7-of-10 from the free-throw line. He mixed runners, jumpers, and driving dunks to finish the night with 19 points, 17 rebounds, and 14 assists.
“He’s able to control stuff when he rebounds,” Brown said of Simmons. “He can rebound and take off, and I still think that is the hardest thing to guard. Back in the day, you would see Charles Barkley do that. …You would see Ervin Magic Johnson do it all the time.”
With the Sixers’ backcourt significantly depleted because of injuries to Jerryd Bayless and JJ Redick, and T.J. McConnell attending his father-in-law’s funeral, there were moments in the first half when two-way player James Young and Larry Drew II, who just signed a 10-day contract, were on the floor at the same time.
The deep reserve unit struggled to match the same impact of the Sixers’ regulars, but the stars were aligned for the team’s starters, who created a 79-54 advantage after back-to-back three-pointers by Saric and Embiid.
Saric had an excellent shooting night, finishing 6-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three, for a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double, extending his double-digit scoring streak to 24 games.
Embiid, who was quickly charged with two fouls in the first quarter, came alive in the second half and finished with an easy 22 points, five rebounds, and two blocks. But Embiid said Simmons was the key to getting it done against the Bulls.
“He was extra aggressive defensively,” Embiid said of his teammate. “Aside from it being Australian night, I think he just wanted it tonight.”
The Sixers were without Embiid in their last meeting with the Bulls, in Chicago on Dec. 18, when Kris Dunn and Nikola Mirotic each scored 22 points.
On Wednesday, the Bulls, paced by Bobby Portis with 22 points and Zach LaVine with 21s, cut the Sixers’ lead to 13 points in the fourth quarter. But they never put on any significant pressure on the Sixers, who led by as many as 25.
Covington (16 points) went 4-of-4 from deep and joined Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (12) and Justin Anderson (12) as the other double-digit scorers for the Sixers.
The Sixers are 8-2 in their last 10 games, as they head out for a four-game road trip.