The Sixers (19-16) hosted the Houston Rockets (10-27) on Monday night. Philly was looking to push its winning streak to four games. Houston intended to snap a seven-game losing streak. Joel Embiid notched a 31-point, 15-rebound, and 10-assist triple-double to power the Sixers past the Rockets, 133-113.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
Armoni Brooks, DeJon Jarreau, and Usman Garuba were in the COVID-19 health and safety protocol and were unavailable for the Rockets.
Alperen Sengun was out with a sprained right ankle. Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr were unavailable as they serve suspensions for behavior during Houston’s loss to the Nuggets this past weekend.
Stephen Silas started Jalen Green, Eric Gordon, Garrison Mathews, Jae’Sean Tate, and Daniel Theis.
The following Sixers were in health and safety protocol and were out:
- Tyrese Maxey
- Matisse Thybulle
- Jaden Springer
- Myles Powell
Ben Simmons is not mentally ready to play and was unavailable.
Before the game, the Sixers announced the signing of former St. Joseph’s University wing Charlie Brown Jr using a hardship exception in light of Maxey and Thybulle entering the protocol. He was available to play.
Dan Burke started Seth Curry, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
Early in the game, Joel Embiid collided with Garrison Mathews on a screen and both were knocked to the floor. It looked like Embiid was going to help Mathews up, but he changed directions ever-so-slightly and walked by the sitting Mathews. Quite the troll job from the big guy.
Tobias Harris hasn’t been as serviceable a defender as he was last season. He wasn’t great last season, either. But, he was a positive. You felt like you could at least rely on four of your five starters to be net-positive defenders in 2020-21. A lot of that security is likely the Simmons safety blanket. But, Harris just hasn’t been the same player on either end of the court this season. The younger Rockets clearly wanted to push the pace every time down the floor. And that speed was simply too much for Harris to stay even with. The likes of Jalen Green and Jae’Sean Tate blew by him on the way to the cup for relatively easy layups. It’s not at all crazy that the teenage Green got around a 29-year-old forward with athletic limitations. But Jae’Sean Tate doing it deserves a second thought.
Paul Reed should be getting situational minutes in the rotation solely on the basis of his rebounding prowess. I think it’s quite obvious that there’s some internal discord as to whether Reed is a power forward or a center. Until he shows a functional skill with some degree of consistency, it will be very difficult to define him. Perhaps it’s just a Dan Burke quirk that gave Reed some minutes in this game. Knowing Doc Rivers’ tendencies, this stay in the rotation likely won’t last very long. But, the second-year whatever-you-want-to-call-him has pogo sticks for legs. And given the Sixers’ struggles with rebounding, it’s hard not to look at him as a candidate for some run when they’re up against large foes.
The absurdity of Embiid is running the break down the middle of the floor before euro-stepping around a Rocket for a thunderous transition dunk, and then following that with a vicious crossover and step-back midrange jumper. It was a whale of a first frame for the big fella. At this point, you just come to expect it.
The rough days on the offensive end continued for Tobias Harris. The immensely frustrating part for viewers and players, alike, is that he was getting shots you want him to take. Harris leveraged his size to get to the post, where he’s most comfortable. He also got his fair share of layups in the first half. But 7 of his 10 shots missed. The struggles at the rim have persisted over multiple games, which is quite concerning. And you can tell he’s starting to get in his own head because the bread-and-butter shots are no longer so easy.
Aside from a couple of dimes while playing with the second unit, Harris is mostly giving his team nothing on the offensive side of the ball at this point. It’s been that way for the vast majority of the first half of this season. To make matters worse, he gestured to the fans when their boos rained down towards the end of the second quarter, seemingly to encourage the booing for his horrid play in the first half. If you wanted a clear signal that he’s aware of his reception in Philly right now, that was it.
Behind a dominant first half from Embiid, the Sixers should’ve led by more than 20 going into the intermission. But a brutal perimeter defense was the primary culprit in their trailing by a point at halftime. The Rockets weren’t making fistfuls of ridiculous threes, by the way. The Sixers were late to close-outs and not getting hands up, flat-out disrespecting Houston’s shooters. The Rockets’ pace hurt Philly, as well. Pushing the rock in transition, Houston was finding the likes of Garrison Mathews, amongst other shooters, on hit-aheads for open threes. And if the threes weren’t falling, all wasn’t lost — the Sixers fouled on multiple three-point attempts in the first half. If you’re looking for clear indicators of poor discipline and focus, fouling three-point shooters is a mostly fool-proof barometer of that. Philly had no urgency on the perimeter, and a Houston team that averages 13 made threes per game connected on 8 of them through two quarters of play.
The Sixers restored some order with a healthy dosage of Seth Curry after intermission. Following an 0-for-6 showing through the first 24 minutes of play, Curry connected on his first three shots of the third quarter. He has that heat-up factor that truly elite shooters have. A freezing first half is, well, just a half. You just expect him to snap out of it at any given five-minute stretch. The Rockets undoubtedly respect his prowess as a shooter regardless of one dry half. But every made shot pressures the defense to step out a half-step further or fight just a touch harder to get through screens. Those negligible changes compound, though. And a young team like Houston buckled ever so slightly as Curry warmed up, allowing the Sixers’ offense to unclog.
Embiid found himself staring a triple-double right in the face heading into the fourth quarter. Even when his teammates were struggling to find a rhythm, the faith he had in them reflected in his willingness to be the connective tissue within the offense. Whether it was cross-court swings when helpers shaded his way, or strong-side playmaking, Embiid dominated the third quarter as a facilitator while still leaving his mark as a scorer.
It’s somewhat poetic that Embiid registered his triple-double on a midrange jumper from Curry, given the basketball symphony the two manufacture on the offensive end of the floor. Last season, and through a sizable chunk of this season, you couldn’t help but wonder whether an Embiid/Curry two-man game was potent enough to be a focal point of your offensive program. It’s anyone’s best guess as to how far that can take you in a playoff environment, but it’s proven to be diet with which the Sixers can claim regular-season wins. Feed the pig, as Doc Rivers likes to say.
Harris made a short jumper out of the low post to the artificial cheer of the fans in attendance. Harris, in more colorful language, directed them not to cheer. On social media, fans took this as a sign of disrespect. Rather than jump to that conclusion, you might make the case that Harris was attempting to communicate that he was aware of how poorly he played and didn’t want to be patronized. That, by the way, is a perfectly reasonable sentiment for any player to express.
Heckuva game for both Furkan Korkmaz and Isaiah Joe. The two wings combined for 42 points on 8-of-16 shooting from deep.
The Sixers (20-16) will visit the Orlando Magic (7-30) on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.