ATLANTA — Ben Simmons spoke Friday morning about not wavering from his on-court persona in the wake of Joel Embiid’s absence.
Then the 76ers point guard turned Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks into his personal playground. The rookie notched his 11th triple-double as the Sixers rolled to a 101-91 victory.
Simmons totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, two blocks, one steal and two turnovers in 26 minutes, 30 seconds. He already had the triple-double secured midway through the third quarter. Simmons picked up his 10th assist when he found Richaun Holmes for a dunk with 5 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the quarter. At that time, he already had 13 points and 12 rebounds. As a result, his triple-double was secured in fewer than 25 minutes.
The rookie-of-the-year front-runner didn’t seem fazed by his accomplishment.
“I’m just happy that we got the win,” Simmons said. “I don’t even know what to say, because it’s been happening more frequently. But I think my teammates, if I didn’t have these guys, I wouldn’t get these triple-doubles.
“They make it easy for me.”
He’s had five triple-doubles in the last 10 games.
“You know, like I keep saying, if it weren’t for me taking him out … four games at least, we would be talking about his 15th triple-double,” coach Brett Brown said. “This is his 11th and that’s what he does.
“I think he triggers our passing.”
This was the Sixers’ first game since Embiid suffered a concussion and a fractured orbital bone near his left eye. The all-star center is expected to be sidelined two to four weeks.
But after a closer-than-expected start, the Sixers (45-30) didn’t miss a beat without him.
Simmons and Amir Johnson, who got the nod in Embiid’s absence, sat out the fourth quarter. The Sixers’ other starters — JJ Redick, Robert Covington and Dario Saric — played only briefly in the final frame.
The Sixers set an NBA record with their ninth consecutive game with 30 or more assists. They finished with 34 on 42 made baskets.
Friday’s victory gave them their first nine-game winning streak since Feb. 12-March 3, 2003. Back then, Larry Brown was the Sixers coach and Allen Iverson was their star player. That team was also two seasons removed from an NBA Finals appearance.
The Sixers broke this game open in the third quarter with a 39-18 scoring advantage over the Eastern Conference’s last-place Hawks (21-55). In that quarter, the Sixers shot 69.6 percent from the field, including 66.7 percent on three-pointers (6 of 9). This came after the Sixers made just 2 of 19 three-pointers in the first half. Redick scored 11 of his 19 points on 5 of 6 shooting in the third quarter, while Simmons compiled five rebounds and four assists.
After leading by six points at the half, the Sixers opened up a 27-point cushion on Redick’s three-pointer with 8.1 seconds left in the quarter.
Ersan Ilyasova finished with game highs of 21 points and 16 rebounds to go with two assists, one steal and one block off the bench. Covington (10 points) and reserves Marco Belinelli (11) and Markelle Fultz (10) were the Sixers’ other double-figure scorers.
The Sixers’ bench outscored the Hawks reserves 53-31.
This was Fultz’s best shooting game in his three games back after missing 68 games. The first overall pick in June’s draft went 4-for-8 from the field and had a highlight-reel dunk over Damion Lee.
Before the game, Fultz’s teammates complained to him that he dunked in warmups but not in the games.
“So that was the first thing I thought of when I caught the ball was just go up and dunk it,” he said of the play. “I didn’t know the guy was there. It just happened to be a poster. But I’m just glad I got the two points.”
Fultz also had his best overall shooting performance since his return, going 4-for-8 while making both of his foul shots. He also finished with a season-high two steals and a rebound in 19:06.
“I’ve been doing a lot of practice to get my rhythm back,” said Fultz, who shot a combined 6-for-18 in his first two games back. “The more games I play, the better it’s going to get, just like anything you do.
“I definitely feel better and more comfortable. Shots were falling. So it felt good.”
— NBA (@NBA) March 31, 2018
This game was a homecoming from Ilyasova and Belinelli. The Hawks waived them after last February’s trade deadline.
Ilyasova played like he wanted everyone in Atlanta to know Phillips Arena was still his house.
He replaced Covington with Sixers down 12-11 with 6 minutes, 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
After missing his first shot, he scored seven straight points for the Sixers on his next three shots. That gave them a 21-20 advantage. Then after the teams traded baskets, his turnaround jumper with 2:24 left in the game gave his squad a 25-22 lead.
Ilyasova finished the quarter with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting to go with five rebounds and one block in 6:57.
The tanking Hawks have eight rookies and four second-year players on their roster. Atlanta was without starters Dennis Schroder (left ankle sprain) and Kent Bazemore (right knee bone bruise), as well as former St. Joseph’s standout DeAndre’ Bembry (abdominal strain), Antonius Cleveland (left ankle surgery rehab), Malcolm Delaney (left ankle strain), and Jaylen Morris (left ankle sprain).
In addition to Embiid, the Sixers were without Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendinitis).