There’s no sugar-coating the situation; as good as the Philadelphia 76ers have been for the brunt of the 2020-21 season, things have been pretty rough recently.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team had dropped four straight contests and ceded control of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Moreover, two of the losses came against the No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks, which could come back to haunt the Sixers in a tie-breaking scenario.
However, the team finally righted the ship in OKC, snapping its extended skid in grand fashion with a 31-point shellacking of the Thunder.
While a lot went right for the Sixers in the game, it was the team’s defense that jumped out in the performance. Philly has been locking teams down all year long, of course, boasting a second-ranked D-rating of 107.2. The effort was historically good against the Thunder, though.
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Sixers Nab an Insane Amount of Steals
Holding the Thunder to 90 points was impressive. So, too, was Philly forcing 29 turnovers and limiting OKC to 7-of-30 shooting from three-point range. However, the team’s 22 steals were a whole other level of stifling.
It was the most steals the Sixers had accrued in a game since January 14, 1986 when the team compiled the same amount in a win over the New Jersey Nets. In that game, Moses Malone led the way with four steals while a young Charles Barkley, Maurice Cheeks, Julius Erving and Sedale Threatt paced the scoring effort with 19 points apiece.
The team’s single-game steals record was set two years earlier when Cheeks’ eight-steal performance during a win over the Phoenix Suns helped the Sixers to a 23-steal night.
Six Sixers players had two or more thefts in their latest contest; Tobias Harris led the way with four. Opponents have only managed to score 106.5 points per 100 possessions when Harris has been on the court this season. That figure represents his best D-rating since the 2016-17 campaign.
Philly currently ranks second league-wide in steals per game at 9.1. The Memphis Grizzlies lead the pack at 9.4 steals per contest. Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle currently share the team lead at 1.6 steals per game.
Having Ben Simmons Helps, Too
Although the unfathomable amount of steals that the Sixers racked up clearly played a large role in the blowout win — as did the Thunder being incredibly shorthanded — there is likely a bigger reason for Philly’s reversal of fortunes. Specifically, Simmons’ return from injury.
The former No. 1 overall pick and three-time NBA All-Star was sensational in his first live game action in 10 days. Simmons scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, adding four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in just 22 minutes of play.
Consequently, the Sixers outscored the Thunder by 20 points during his abridged time on the hardwood.
This is hardly a hot take, but the Sixers are just overwhelmingly better when Simmons is playing than when he isn’t. For the year, they outscore opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor, compared to just 1.1 points/100 poss. when he isn’t.
The team’s effective field goal percentage also drops 4.6 points when Simmons isn’t playing.
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