Maxey-Blue/Dhwani Saraiya

The Philadelphia 76ers (10-8) visited the Golden State Warriors (15-2) on Thanksgiving Eve. It was the last leg of their six-game road trip. Philadelphia wanted to build a winning streak after their victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday. Golden State had designs to push its own winning streak to five games. The Warriors outscored the Sixers by 18 points in the third quarter to cap a 39-point turnaround and deal the Sixers a 116-96 defeat.

Before we get to what I saw, allow me to set the scene.

Contextual Notes

Seth Curry (low back stiffness) and Danny Green (left hamstring tightness) returned to the lineup for the Sixers. Tobias Harris missed his second consecutive game with left hip soreness. 

Joel Embiid was unavailable as he gears up for a return from the health and safety protocol. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, there is optimism that Embiid will return against the Timberwolves (Saturday in Philly) or Magic (Monday in Philly).

Ben Simmons, who is not mentally ready to play, was not with the team.

Jaden Springer, as well as Grant Riller and Aaron Henry (Two-Ways), were on assignments with the team’s G-League affiliate in Delaware.

Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Matisse Thybulle, Georges Niang, and Andre Drummond.

The Warriors were without Andre Iguodala, who is nursing a sore right knee. 

Klay Thompson (recovery from torn right achilles tendon) and James Wiseman (recovery from torn meniscus in right knee) were unavailable. Jeff Dowtin, a Two-Way signee, was on assignment with the Warriors’ G-League affiliate.

Steve Kerr started Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney.

First Quarter

I’m not sure this is a popular take, but that might just be that I’m not in tune with which takes are popular. Anyway, the Sixers’ primary white jerseys they wear on the road are way better than the blue ones they wear at home. Not interested in any sort of debate on the matter.

The Sixers have generally done a wonderful job of taking care of the basketball this season. Of course, a lot of that is that their offense is spear-headed by a point guard who literally refuses to commit turnovers. But, they got into some trouble there because a lot of the offense was running through Andre Drummond. He’s a talented facilitator out of the short roll and is a sensible DHO partner because of his ability to set physical screens and securely deliver the ball to his partner. But, you’re asking too much of him if you have him dribbling, looking around, and moving to different spots in search of someone with whom he can run an action.

Early on, the ball went to Drummond and then Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry stood idly watching the play unfold. The ball ended up in Niang’s hands some, but there’s not really a dynamic in a Niang-Drummond combination that is going to yield consistent results. With Drummond trying to create something for his idle teammates, miscommunication led to turnovers. Possessions that result in turnovers will result in fatality against Golden State, especially if they’re of the live-ball variety. Allowing the Warriors to get out in transition is a cardinal sin. But fortunately for the Sixers, the ball was going out of bounds. So, the turnovers weren’t as bad as they could’ve been for Philly.

Matisse Thybulle had an incredible close-out on Stephen Curry in the middle of the first frame. It was quick and intimidating enough to force Curry, of all people, to reconsider his shot. The superstar sniper eventually let it rip as Thybulle entered the center of his vision, barely avoiding a block. The shot missed long, which is always a positive outcome for the Warriors’ opponent. But man, those Thybulle close-outs are so valuable to your team defense.

He’s not going to block them all, but if he can apply pressure rapidly enough to make shooters hesitate, wonderful. I’ve criticized his individual defense and offensive growth quite a bit. But, his prowess as a team defender — which is still well-reputed — is perhaps still under-rated. He alters shots on the perimeter without recording blocks to a degree similar to the way Joel Embiid alters non-blocked shots at the rim. His ability to do that, by itself, is something the Sixers sorely missed while he was in the health and safety protocol.

Danny Green came back from the hamstring with some passion. He scored 11 points on 4 field goal attempts in a 5-minute burst off the bench in the first quarter.

Second Quarter

Early in the second quarter, Tyrese Maxey sensed contact on his shoulder as he drove towards the baseline and promptly rose for the shot to draw the shooting foul. He got the call, and the bucket dropped. Hard to tell whether that’s a feel that Maxey is going to have consistently. If he does, it’s LouWillville on steroids for the rest of the league. But it speaks more to Maxey’s rapidly improving understanding of how to draw fouls.

Since the tail end of the Sixers’ six-game winning streak, Maxey has made significant strides in drawing foul calls. He’s starting to get star-level whistles. In the first half, he got to the line for 5 freebies. His proficiency as a driver has allowed him to get to the free throw line consistently. The key there is that he’s driving into defenders’ chests instead of fading away from contact.

In his rookie campaign, Maxey often faded away from defenders as he drove to the basket. He even did that a bit at the start of the season. But, there’s been a clear difference in his approach as a ball-handler. His aggression has picked up and he’s starting to embrace contact to the point of playing through it. Now, he bursts to the rim and glides past everyone for scores or gets fouled trying to do so.

Speaking of Maxey, he was called for a ludicrous foul after blocking Damion Lee’s jumper from behind. It was a clear block in real time. Of course, professional sports officiating is generally a joke. But the ridiculous rules for challenging calls in the NBA is that you only get one per game. So, Rivers having to burn his challenge to get an atrocious call reversed is something that could hurt his team down the line. Totally out of their control, but could cost them in the W- and L-columns. The rule is nonsense, and I think every team would echo that sentiment.

One of Maxey’s most impressive developments of late is his recognition of opportunities to send double-teams late in shot clocks. Most of those decisions are coming when offensive players are on the baseline, so Maxey’s pressure is effectively pinning them against the hot lava and the two defenders. He sends the pressure so late and so rapidly that it stuns the subjected offensive player, who is just trying to get a shot off to beat the buzzer. He’s delivering the extra pressure appropriately, and so it’s benefiting the Sixers quite well right now.

It’s kind of a cheap way of doubling, given the context in which he’s doing it. The shot clock and the baseline are both applying pressure to the offensive player, in addition to his primary defender. So, he gets credit for making a significantly unfavorable situation a bit more unfavorable for the offense. But more than anything, it’s a demonstration that his defensive IQ is growing. That’s transferrable to a variety of situations, not just baseline double-teams late in the shot clock.

Third Quarter

A half-court shot from Jordan Poole to beat the halftime buzzer capped off a second quarter that eroded all of the Sixers’ momentum. But they still led by 9 points at the intermission. Golden State’s MO has always been to destroy teams in the third quarter. But even if you’re prepared for it, you’re never truly ready to fight it. The Warriors did their thing in the third frame. They leveraged tough interior defense to engulf the Sixers and force live-ball turnovers. Philly’s transition defense has been problematic this season, as is. But against a team that plays with the shooting, pace, and synergy that the Warriors do? Forget it.

Part of the problem was the Sixers’ own doing. Drummond is there for size matchup purposes with Kevon Looney. Thybulle is there to stalk Steph Curry around the court to prevent him from taking the game over. But, neither have strong hands. The Sixers tried forging offense amid Warriors’ runs by hitting Thybulle and Drummond on the move. You obviously can’t exclude them from the offense entirely. But, passing them the ball as they navigate a crowded floor puts them in spots to fail. Ultimately, the Sixers are under-manned and have to play with what they have. But, asking Thybulle and Drummond to do things outside of their aptitudes breeds turnovers. Those turnovers killed the Sixers in their highest-leverage environment of the game. 

To Rivers’ credit, he responded well to the clear vulnerability within his lineup. While the Warriors had essentially swung the game at that point, Rivers went smaller and took Drummond off the floor first. It was a sensible move, seeing as you want to tether Thybulle’s minutes to the opposing Curry’s as much as possible. 

The Whistle Convention

There was a sequence late in the third quarter in which Danny Green was called for a foul on the floor on a made basket, but Niang collided with Jordan Poole in what percolated into a small dust-up. The officials, of course, needed to eat some time reviewing the play. It was pretty clear to anyone who saw a replay that the appropriate ruling should’ve been a shooting foul on Green and then technicals on each of Poole and Niang. That takes about two minutes to dole out. 

Instead, the call was a foul on the floor on Green, which made no sense. Then, Poole was charged a technical, while Niang was issued a Flagrant 1. I’m sure ESPN enjoyed televising a whistle convention on Thanksgiving Eve. Kudos to the officials for putting on a show!

Fourth Quarter

The Sixers largely withstood the Golden State run in the third quarter when they went smaller. So logically, Rivers put Drummond back in for the fourth quarter. I’m fine with giving a guy a breather at the risk of leaving the team vulnerable for a few minutes. But, Rivers left Drummond in the game for far too long. It was just one back-breaking play after another for the big man.

He committed a horrendous foul on Juan Toscano-Anderson for a three-point play at the very end of the shot clock. That put Golden State up 3 points. Then, Drummond got blocked on a short floater by a smaller defender with the Warriors up 6. The block forced a shot-clock violation, further strengthening Golden State’s momentum. A short while later, Toscano-Anderson beat Drummond’s over-play to the rim for a dunk that put Golden State up 8 points. Drummond was fantastic against the Kings. But, the Warriors aren’t the Kings. If the league will allow it, perhaps Embiid should play in a hazmat suit when he comes back. The Sixers cannot afford any more stints in the health and safety protocol for the big fella.

When Rivers finally put more shooting on the floor late in the fourth quarter, he went with Furkan Korkmaz instead of Danny Green. That decision was particularly hard to understanding, given that Korkmaz was ice-cold and Green was relatively hot. In the third quarter, there was a scrum for a loose ball in which Green appeared to hurt his right arm. Time will tell whether Green was simply on a minute restriction or there’s another injury holding him back.

Take Me Home

More than anything, the Sixers need to get healthy. But second to that, they need to get home for a couple games. It was a brutal six-game trip that yielded a 2-4 record. Given how short-staffed the Sixers were, that’s not the worst outcome. While Golden State is a monster, the Sixers held a 19-point lead in this game. That short-staffing vulnerability was quite clear in the second half, as the Warriors turned on the jets. A 39-point swing is ugly, but I wouldn’t exactly call it unexpected under this context. In the fourth quarter, as the Warriors put a strangle-hold on the game, you could sense the Sixers adopt the mindset of “Alright, let’s just get home”. They’ll do just that now.

The Sixers (10-9) will host the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-9) on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 6 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.