This paper presents results of a global MHD simulation of a substorm that occurred on December 10, 1996. We concentrate on the relationship between the simulation results and the magnetotail observations during the growth and expansion phases of the substorm. In general, we find excellent agreement between the single point observations made by various spacecraft in both the geosynchronous and mid-tail regions: the simulation accurately represented the energy loading (lobe field increase), small-scale activations (partial dipolarizations), and a global substorm onset (large dipolarizations and fast flows). The global view presented by the simulation shows complex series of discrete flow channels during the expansion phase prior to the onset of global reconnection. It is these flows channels that disrupt the thin current sheets present during the expansion phase of the substorm.