Tragic news brought the entire country to a halt on Sunday. Kobe Bryant, along with his 13 year old daughter Gianna and seven others, died in a helicopter crash in California. Kobe was 41 years old.
Bryant attended Lower Merion high school in Ardmore and went directly to the NBA in 1996. He spent 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and won five NBA championships, including one over his home-town Sixers in 2001. Bryant’s life ends as one of the most decorated and celebrated players in the history of basketball.
Reaction poured in from a league that was collective shaken over his tragic death.
During the nine game absence of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons was been busy reminding people how good he really is. He averaged 21 points, 9 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and 2.3 steals per game, while playing over 39 minutes per night. His best game saw him post a career high 34 point triple double (12 rebounds and 12 assists) in a big win on the road versus Brooklyn.
It truly may have been Simmons’ best game as a professional, and helped him earn the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. He absolutely tormented the Nets on defense with the help of Matisse Thybulle. Those two are becoming an elite perimeter defensive pairing with length and athleticism that is next to impossible to navigate.
On Saturday LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers came to town for a marquee matchup, and the menacing defense continued. During the game LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant as the 3rd all time leading scorer in NBA history, an accomplishment that rapidly changed in significance less than 24 hours later.
The game itself was a familiar outcome for the Sixers at home; they dominated.
Simmons and Thybulle once again put the clamps on one of the best offenses in the league. Simmons led the way with 28 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals. Thybulle also collected 5 steals in just his ninth career starting appearance. While they won’t have to face the Lakers in the playoffs until the finals, it was a very impressive performance against on of the league’s best.
Richardson goes down
The win over the Lakers was particularly impressive as it was the first game without Josh Richardson, who left last week’s against the Raptors with a hamstring strain. He had previously missed six games in late November/early December with a similar strain. He’ll be re-evaluated soon, but will miss a key stretch of games (4 straight on the road versus Atlanta, Boston, Miami, and Milwaukee).
Richardson’s absence is a tough one to navigate. The Sixers will need contributions from numerous players to fill the void like they did against the Lakers. Thybulle can make up for a lot of the defense, but his offense isn’t quite consistent or polished enough. That is where Shake Milton comes in.
The 2nd year guard had his first career start against the Lakers, and gave the team solid minutes; 7 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a +12 rating in 25 minutes. There is a lot to like about Milton; he attacks the rim with confidence and offers more athleticism at the guard spot than Raul Neto or Trey Burke. Most of all, he plays with a level head that catches the coach’s eye.
“There is sort of like a poise [to him]…he plays at a non-rattled level,” Brett Brown said of Milton. “He really doesn’t…get rattled. He doesn’t get [shaken] up.”