Brett Brown has a lot to be thankful for these days.
The 76ers coach has a new-era point guard in Ben Simmons. Brown also has Joel Embiid, who can become the league’s most dominant post player if healthy. And at some point, he’ll incorporate Markelle Fultz into the mix of what has been his most talented squad in Philly.
Brown’s thankful for that. And while he frowned on their offensive performance, Brown definitely appreciated the Sixers’ showing against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thanksgiving eve.
The Sixers (10-7) scored the game’s first 16 points en route to their 101-81 decision Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center. The Blazers (10-8) posted season lows in total points and field-goal percentage (33.7). The Sixers allowed their lowest point total this season.
“I thought our offense was a C-minus,” Brown said. “I thought our defense was an A, and we are looking for two As.”
But he’s still going to cherish this victory.
“I thought at times our offense was sloppy,” Brown said. “But we beat the fourth-best team in the West by 20 points. I’m greedy, but I ain’t stupid.”
Embiid had another dominant game, finishing with a team-high 28 points, a game-high 12 rebounds, and two blocks to go with four turnovers. It was his eighth double-double of the season.
Meanwhile, Simmons added 16 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. T.J. McConnell (13 points), Dario Saric (11) and JJ Redick (11) were the team’s other double-digit scorers. Embiid’s backup, Amir Johnson, had another solid performance with four points on 2-for-4 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and two blocks.
Portland point guard Damian Lillard finished with a game-high 30 points while making 6 of 13 three-pointers. His backcourt mate C.J. McCollum had his worst performance of the season. He finished with a season-low five points on 1-for-14 shooting.
Meanwhile, the team’s third-best player, center Jusuf Nurkic, had 14 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and six turnovers.
This was the Sixers’ second straight and fourth win in five games. But this matchup was supposed to be a good test.
In Portland, they faced one of the league’s top young tandems in Lillard and McCollum. Nurkic also dominated in the Blazers’ last game against the Sixers on March 9 in Oregon.
With Embiid sidelined, the 7-foot, 275-pounder finished with 28 points and career highs of 20 rebounds, eight assists and six blocks in that matchup.
Meanwhile, Lillard is the 2013 rookie of the year and two-time all-star, who came into the matchup ranked 10th in the league in scoring at 24.4 points per game. McCollum, a Lehigh graduate, was the league’s most improved player in 2016.
With those three leading the way, the Blazers usually play exceptionally well in the half court. That’s not the way the Sixers wanted to play.
Turns out they didn’t have to.
The Blazers missed their first 13 shots. Taking advantage, the Sixers built a 16-0 advantage after Johnson’s basket with 5 minutes, 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
Reserve point guard Shabazz Napier (13 points) finally put Portland on the scoreboard with a jumper 48 seconds later. However, McConnell responded with a three-pointer to give the Sixers a 17-point advantage.
“When we are on defense communicating and rotating and looking like a well-oiled machine, it’s hard for teams to score on us,” McConnell said. “But sometimes, we have those breakdowns where we let up a lot of points. So we just have to be more consistent.”
Sparked by Lillard’s 12 second-quarter points, Portland pulled within eight points on two occasions late in in the first half. But the Sixers went on to take a 13-point halftime cushion. The closest the Blazers would get after that was within nine.
However, the Sixers didn’t exactly put Portland totally away until Redick’s three-pointer made it a 20-point game with 2:59 left. That didn’t sit well with Brown. He also wasn’t pleased with the times the Sixers went five to six possessions without feeding Embiid the ball in the low post. And his saw his squad jack up some quick three-pointers early in the possession.
“Not all threes are good threes,” Brown said. “You know [the Sixers need better] judgment on that. And [there were] sloppy portions of the game where we didn’t even get a shot.”
But he realizes this is part of the evolution of his young team. That’s why Brown is thankful that he’s been given time to try to rebuild the team.
“We see daylight and we see fruits of our labor with the people that have gone through a lot,” he said.