Sixers’ Simmons, Butler, Embiid dominate, blow out Raptors to force Game 7


Ben Simmons played in Game 5 on Tuesday, there is proof right in the box score. Yet if you watched the game he was hardly noticeable. Not coincidently Philadelphia got blown out on the road.

In the first minutes of Game 6, you could not miss Ben Simmons — he was aggressive, attacking downhill, imposing himself on the game. Philadelphia’s defensive energy had Toronto missing shots, and that gave Simmons a chance to get out in transition, where he is at his best. Simmons was 4-of-5 shooting with 5 assists in the first quarter alone.

That set the tone.

“[Simmons] was our bell-ringer tonight,” Sixers coach Brett Brown of his star, who finished with 21 points.

Jimmy Butler was the best player on the floor, scored 25 on the night, had eight assists, and played with the kind of grit and determination that endears him to Sixers faithful. “He was all over that game,” Brown said.

Joel Embiid was +40 in 36 minutes (and the Sixers were -29 in the 12 minutes he sat)— just his presence on the court changes things for the Sixers on both ends.

Philadelphia blew out Toronto in Game 6, 112-101 (a score that was not indicative of the 20+ point Sixers lead for much of the game) to even the series 3-3.

The winner-take-all Game 7 is Sunday in Toronto, 7 p.m. Eastern (up against the penultimate Game of Thrones episode, both may see some blood spilled).

It’s a game with more than just a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals against Milwaukee on the line — free agent decisions by stars such as Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and more could be impacted by the outcome.

Which Philadelphia team will show up for that game?

Throughout this series — and even going back to Game 1 of the Brooklyn series — this team has been up-and-down. Part of that has risen and fell with Joel Embiid’s health, but Simmons effectiveness, and how well the role players have performed, has been a roller coaster as well.

Often that is tied to pace — when the Sixers get to run then Simmons gets going and other things open up. Make the Sixers take the ball out of the basket each time and the dynamic changes.

“We just missed so many shots early and they were just playing off the rebounds so often,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “They were getting the rebound and pushing out on us so often, and we were not doing a great job in transition.”

If the Sixers team that showed up Thursday night appears on Sunday Philadelphia has a good chance of advancing.

As it has every game, Toronto got a good night from Kawhi Leonard, 29 points on 9-of-20 shooting, however, this was not one of his elite nights. Pascal Siakam added 21 points and played well.

That’s about it. Every other Raptor shot a combined 40 percent and had little impact on the game Kyle Lowry was 5-of-11 for 13 points, Danny Green was 2-of-8 from three, Serge Ibaka was 3-of-10, Marc Gasol 3-of-8.

Toronto’s role players have been much better at home and they need to continue that trend Sunday.

One other thing to watch: Late in the game, Embiid picked up a flagrant foul when a push of Marc Gasol (in an attempt to establish rebounding position) resulted in a hand flying up and catching the Raptor big man in the face. Inadvertent or not the NBA has handed out Flagrants for those kinds of plays all season. That gives Embiid three flagrants these playoffs, one more and he gets a one-game suspension (if his next one is a Flagrant 2 he sits two games).

Devin Booker not a fan of being doubled during pick-up run (VIDEO)

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This is going to turn into a thing. It shouldn’t, but it’s the NBA offseason and people are looking for something to talk about, so this — which is really not much of anything — will become a thing. And it’s going to suck for Devin Booker.

Booker was taking part in some summer run, got a pass in the corner, decided to hold the ball and hold the ball, then the double team came. Booker was no fan of the double.

We just do not have enough context from this video to say much. It’s some guys jawing during open gym — if you’ve played five minutes of pickup ball anywhere you know this is how it goes.

But, Booker comes off in this clip as a bit whiny. So for some it will become a thing. Even though it shouldn’t.

It’s going to be interesting to see how different Devin Booker’s game looks next season next to a quality NBA point guard in Ricky Rubio. It could lead to another step forward for the young guard, but like this video we will need to see more before commenting.

Tacko Fall’s agent confident if Celtics don’t keep him on roster another team will

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Tacko Fall was arguably the most popular player at Las Vegas Summer League (especially since Zion Williamson only played nine minutes). Fans chanted for him to get in games and then chanted “M-V-P” once he was in. Fall averaged 7.2 points a game on 77 percent shooting at Summer League and every play he made became a viral highlight.

But that was Summer League.

Now things are getting real and Fall is trying to make the Celtics’ roster. Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics, which is essentially a training camp invite.

It’s a longshot Fall makes the Celtics’ regular season roster for two reasons. First, Fall needs a lot more development to be NBA ready, both physically and in terms of understanding and reacting to the game and how fast it moves. That was evident in Las Vegas. Second, the Celtics have Enes Kanter starting at center with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams behind him, it’s unlikely they keep a fourth traditional center on the roster. Both of Boston’s two-way contracts are already filled.

If the Celtics cut Fall and he signs with Boston’s G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, Fall gets a $50,000 bonus.

However, Fall’s agent Justin Haynes says if Boston cuts Fall he believes another team will sign him, something Haynes told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.

“If the Celtics release him, I don’t think he goes unclaimed,” said Haynes, Fall’s agent. “I think somebody will take a shot on him because he’s done enough to show he can find a place in the NBA. I’m really hopeful that it’s Boston. I hope they find a way, and they do have a vision for him.”

I could see another team giving Fall one of their two-way contracts, but he needs a lot more development and time on the court. He needs time in the G-League. Maybe a team gives him a roster spot and develops him there, but that seems unlikely. Fall has the potential to be an NBA player, but it’s going to take a lot of work for him to get there.

Work that this year likely will take place in the G-League.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.