Even before the Warriors became the Celtics' 14th consecutive victim Thursday, Steve Kerr was already sold, saying "Boston is the team of the future in the East." Perhaps he's rethinking that statement after what he saw on Saturday from the Sixers.
Yes, Golden State beat Philly in demoralizing fashion, erasing a 22-point halftime deficit to win 124-116 with the kind of third-quarter choke-out only the Warriors can so routinely administer. But, man, this Sixers team is a problem. And it's going to be an even bigger problem as it learns from games like this. Here are three takeaways:
The Ben Simmons dilemma
In guarding a player who can't shoot -- and no, Ben Simmons, at this point, cannot shoot to save his life -- the instinct as a defender is to sag off in isolation, go under screens and generally force said player to beat you from the outside. Simmons, though, turns all that space into a yet another weapon. In the following clip, watch how Draymond Green, who is already giving Simmons a cushion, goes under the Joel Embiid screen, which gives Simmons a good 10 feet of runway to get a head of steam to the basket.
.@BenSimmons25 making it real easy to #TTP with these types of finishes! 👀 pic.twitter.com/5jPEUuTS0I— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 19, 2017
At a hair under 7 feet, Simmons covers too much ground too quickly for even a defender of Green's caliber to make up. Once Simmons has the angle, given his ability to finish with either hand, he has already won the play. It's simply a matter of whether he finishes the shot, which he's going to do more times than not. Simmons was shooting a tick under 70 percent from inside 10 feet coming into Saturday, when he was 8 for 8 in the paint in the first half, and 11 for 15 from the field for the game en route to 23 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.
OK, so if you can't give him space -- which, by the way, also affords a man who already has supreme vision even clearer passing lanes -- then perhaps you can push up on him and force him to create his own space. Eh, not so much:
BEN SIMMONS IS NOT FAIR pic.twitter.com/V1p5CRejcd— Drew Corrigan (@Dcorrigan50) November 19, 2017
OK, then, if you can't defend him with a cushion, and you can't really crowd him either, then perhaps your best bet is to deny him hard off the ball and not let him get it in the first place. Problem is, he's typically bringing the ball up, and when he does move off the ball, you can't really deny an entry pass to a 7-foot pure athlete. Plus, if you do over-extend, he's a terrific cutter.
Saric ➡️ Simmons ➡️ Embiiid#HereTheyComepic.twitter.com/xL6mju3U6D— NBA (@NBA) November 19, 2017
As the Sixers built a 22-point halftime lead, Simmons looked like the best player on a floor that included Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Embiid, whose 21 points and eight boards on Saturday actually qualifies as a pretty pedestrian night for him. Do I wish he had a jumper? Absolutely. Typically, I don't buy any player with a shot as bad as Simmons will be a future superstar. But Simmons ... well, Durant said it best after the game.
Kevin Durant on Ben Simmons: "Something I've never seen before (at PG spot)" pic.twitter.com/HmAAYeDCnB— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 19, 2017
The Warriors will tear your heart out
Imagine having a 22-point lead at halftime, scoring the first bucket of the third quarter to go up 24, then being down 10 less than 12 minutes later. That's what the Sixers had to swallow Saturday. For all the praise I just showered on Simmons, he'll learn it is not a good idea to poke Curry when he's having an off shooting night.
This is the moment the game changed. Ben Simmons ignited Steph Curry pic.twitter.com/SjZqqKH8P1— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) November 19, 2017
As you can see, at this point in the game the Sixers were up 19 and Curry had yet to hit a 3. About 10 seconds later, he did this:
That was the first of Curry's four 3-pointers, and from that point forward the Warriors outscored Philly 42-13 in the third quarter. So, yeah, don't poke Curry, who bounced back from a 9-point performance in a loss to Boston to put up 35 on the Sixers, 20 of which came in that third period.
This is where Markelle Fultz will help
Well, perhaps I shouldn't say will help. But this is at least where he should help if his game, and particularly his shot, is back together whenever he returns from his shoulder issue. All due respect to T.J. McConnell (who was a minus-11 on Saturday), the Sixers just don't have anyone to consistently initiate offense outside Simmons, who was a plus-6 in the loss.
Pretty simply, the Sixers lost this game when Simmons wasn't on the court.
To that point, the Sixers put up 48 first-quarter points on the Warriors, who haven't given up that many points in the first 12 minutes since 1992 -- and so much of it came back to Simmons. You saw above what he was doing as a scorer, but the byproduct of that is all the looks he creates for others. Robert Covington had four 3-pointers in the first quarter -- guys like him and J.J. Redick, who need their shots created for them, just can't get the same consistency of looks without Simmons.
Being able to put the ball in Fultz's hands to run the second unit should benefit this Philly team greatly -- again, assuming his shot isn't still broken when he returns and he more resembles the player that most experts had as the No. 1 prospect coming into this year's draft.