Philadelphia News & Search
CHICAGO, IL – The 76ers flexed their muscle Friday, and did so in a big way.
Summoning up at times overpowering interior strength, they delivered a convincing 117-107 victory over the Bulls at United Center.
The regular season win was the Sixers’ first on Chicago’s West Side in almost six years (they last won there on March 28th, 2011), and allowed the club to emphatically smash a 12-game skid against the Bulls.
Between the Sixers’ potent performance in the paint, where they churned out a season-high 70 points, and the balance provided by the 10 players available on the active roster, there was plenty for Brett Brown to feel good about.
“We played well against a team that is fighting to get into the playoffs,” said Brown, whose squad went in front by as much as 26 points in the third quarter. “All over the place, we leave here proud of our guys.”
“Tonight, we had good energy and controlled the ball well,” Dario Saric said following his career-high 32-point showing. “We tried to be aggressive, and get offensive rebounds. We pushed for better position, and switched a lot with our guards to get inside against their smaller guards. We just came out with a loot of energy, and played good defense.”
The triumph was the Sixers’ first in three tries on their current season-long five-game road trip. Even more noteworthy, thought, was how Friday’s win came together.
The Sixers used drive after merciless drive to rip right through the heart of the Bulls, particularly in the second and third quarters. Just two days earlier in Oklahoma City, it was the Sixers themselves who fell victim to physical inside play.
In Chicago, the turnaround was dramatic.
“They showed they can bounce back from a game that did not reflect who we think we are in O.K.C,” Brown said, alluding to Wednesday’s 25-point setback to the Thunder in which the Sixers yielded 76 points in the paint. “I think how teams respond is always an interesting litmus test for coaches, and we responded in a way that I expected them to.”
En route to the most prolific outing of his now 72-game career, Saric converted 12 of 19 field goal attempts, including two stabilizing 3-pointers in the final six minutes of regulation. The deposits came as Chicago started to manufacture some modest momentum.
Saric also added a team-best 10 rebounds to clinch his 10th double-double of the season.
“We got beat up bad last game,” said Saric, whose scoring output was the second-highest produced by a Sixer this season (Joel Embiid scored 33 points in a December 18th win at Brooklyn).
“Tonight, we were tougher than them,” Saric continued. “That was the main reason. Also, the bench played well.”
Shawn Long certainly was an influential part of that storyline.
On a night the Sixers were without Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness), Long, another frontcourt rookie, offered a notable boost. The center, promoted from the Delaware 87ers just three weeks ago, cranked out a career-high 18 points, and matched a personal best with seven boards.
As impressive as those numbers were, another stat seemed to stand out to Brown that much more.
“He was plus-31,” said Brown, referring to Long’s plus-minus rating from Friday’s contest. The metric accounts for the number of points a team scores while a specific player is on the court.
“You don’t see that very often,” Brown said. “And, the way that he performed, he sure took advantage of his  minutes.”
“Shawn brought energy and pushed the ball,” said Saric. “He also got offensive rebounds.”
In retracing critical developments from Friday’s game, the player who perhaps was most responsible for the Sixers’ interior success was not a gritty do-all power forward, or a no-nonsense 255-pounder overlooked in last June’s draft.
No, the man who led the charge in the great parting of the red key at United Center was none other than backcourt maestro and master of finesse Sergio Rodriguez. Unfurling a flurry of smooth lay-ups in the latter stages of the first half, the Sixers’ pedestrian-sized point guard got to the hole on three straight possessions, and began to break down the Bulls.
Upon finishing his personal scoring spurt, Rodriguez served up an alley-oop slam for Richaun Holmes, before connecting moments later on a 3-pointer. For the first time Friday evening, the Sixers held a double-digit lead.
“You really have to speak and write great things about what [Rodriguez] did in the first half, and I played him unusual type of minutes,” said Brown. Rodriguez logged the final 13 minutes, 41 seconds of the opening stanza.
“I kept Sergio going because he was playing so well.”
By the time the game-changing second quarter had come to a close, the Sixers had outscored Chicago, 35-18, an early 10-point deficit long in the rearview. Their advantage in the paint was a telling 26-6, their rebounding margin an equally significant 17-5.
Like Long, Rodriguez was a second-stringer who left his mark.
“We rode him out in that second period, and he really set the table I think for the rest of the game,” Brown said.
Halftime did nothing to disrupt the Sixers’ momentum. Following the break, they pumped out eight points in less than two minutes. Chicago needed a timeout.
The Sixers snapped off eight more points over the next two-minute clump of the game, again doing so by bulldozing their way to the basket. Again, the Bulls needed time.
The hosts simply had no answer for the Sixers’ assault in the paint until the fourth quarter, when Chicago got some stops. Relying mostly on Jimmy Butler and a contingent of reserves, the Bulls trimmed the gap to 10 points with 7 minutes, 15 seconds to go in the game. Saric then supplied the first of two timely triples, his second giving the Sixers a 114-100 pad with just over two minutes to play, and effectively putting the game out of reach.
Butler paced all players with 36 points.
Gerald Henderson enjoyed a strong showing in relief, netting 14 points. He began the evening by flushing his first four shots from the field.
The Sixers shot 55.4 percent from the field, and outrebounded Chicago by seven.
Looking for an example of Sergio Rodriguez’s ability to drive the lane in Friday’s game? Check out the second-quarter sequence below.
Chacho will take one scoop, please. pic.twitter.com/HCNRRUZx9V
— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) March 25, 2017
As they enter the back-end of a season-long five-game road trip, the Sixers will begin to head back east, visiting Indiana Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers are trying to hang onto one of the middle seeds in the Eastern Conference standings, but sustained a 125-117 loss to Denver Friday. The defeat dropped Indiana to an even .500 record on the season, further reducing the Pacers’ margin for error in the final weeks of the season, with clubs like Miami, Chicago, and Detroit nipping at their heels.
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