The Philadelphia 76ers (14-11) hosted the Utah Jazz (17-7) on Thursday night. Philly was looking to sweep a back-to-back after winning in Charlotte on Wednesday. Utah wanted to extend its winning streak to six games. The Jazz sunk 16 triples to put an end to Philly’s winning streak, 118-96.
Before we get to what I saw, some context is due.
The Jazz were without Udoka Azubuike (right ankle injury) and Elijah Hughes (G-League assignment).
Quin Snyder started Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert.
The Sixers were without Ben Simmons, who is not mentally ready to play.
Grant Riller missed the affair with a sore right shoulder. Aaron Henry (Two-Way), Paul Reed, and Jaden Springer were on G-League assignments with the Blue Coats.
Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
This matchup served as a test of how Philadelphia would adjust against a team whose strengths fit seamlessly into their vulnerabilities. Utah leads the NBA in both three-point attempts and three-point makes. The Sixers, on the other hand, really struggle with guarding on the perimeter. The early problem was executing coverages in the pick-and-roll.
The Jazz were more than happy to toggle through their offense until the ball was in Donovan Mitchell’s hands with Rudy Gobert setting up as a wide fence on his left side. The Sixers decided to test Mitchell and fight through the screens without blitzing or hedging. Mitchell has grown too much to not make defenses pay for that disrespect. As such, he connected on a pair of threes early in the game.
Beyond that, the Sixers did an adequate job of chasing the Jazz off the three-point line and funneling them towards help defenders.
Joel Embiid certainly appeared to have this matchup circled on the schedule. Embiid got the blood flowing with a pair of gorgeous pull-up jumpers over Gobert early in the first quarter. He then sprinkled in a trey over the perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Later in the frame, Embiid zig-zagged down the middle of the floor to beat Hassan Whiteside and a Utah helper to the basket for a thunderous dunk to ignite The Center.
Embiid has shown a willingness to be more of a roller in recent games. He’s screening and opening up to the rim for ball-handlers like Curry and Harris. He even got rewarded for a roll midway through the first frame, converting a run-of-the-mill layup on the move. He wasn’t looking to feast on the interior like he was against the Hornets. But, the Jazz have a much different interior profile than the Hornets do. So, midrange jumpers were a bit more enticing than wrestling with Gobert down low. But Embiid has re-discovered his outside touch lately, so settling for those jumpers wasn’t to the detriment of his team.
Rivers started the second frame with a unit featuring Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Georges Niang, and Andre Drummond. This is baseless speculation (and 100 percent comedic relief), but perhaps he had a bet on how quickly that lineup could destroy a lead. I don’t know what that lineup has less of — shot-creating on offense, or agility, athleticism, and strength on defense. I hope the bet hit.
Speaking of Korkmaz, it’s just brutal to watch right now. He hasn’t seen an open three fall (inside the basket, that is) since the Obama administration. It’s reached the point where he’s blasting Ice Cube’s It Was A Good Day on his car’s aux if he makes a layup.
The Sixers very well could’ve established a significant lead had they just changed their pick-and-roll coverages on Mitchell. There appeared to be a fundamental lack of knowledge that Gobert does not warrant urgent attention off of ball screens. The big man cannot put the ball on the floor, he can barely pass, and he surely cannot shoot. Hell, if he actually catches the ball as he rolls to the basket, you might as well just foul him. It’s not as if he’s a good free throw shooter.
The focus in defending the action was out of balance in the wrong direction. There was seldom any tagging of the roller by Philly’s back-line helpers. They just fought through the picks while the screener’s matchup followed him to the rim. There was no hard hedging, soft hedging, or blitzing. And Mitchell was walking into open — albeit, deep — triples. And if he wasn’t doing that, he was putting downhill pressure on the cup and spraying the ball around the horn to keep his teammates involved. The way Utah plays, it’s not at all difficult to see why they’re an elite three-point shooting bunch.
Tyrese Maxey took a hard fall in the second quarter after taking contact as he went up for a layup. The second-year guard smacked his head on the floor and stayed down momentarily before walking to the locker room under his own power. He returned to the game shortly thereafter.
It was a sneakily strong game for Tobias Harris, who looked as comfortable as he has since before he contracted COVID-19. Besides acting quickly off the catch, Harris was putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim with success. Again, the pace and lack of indecision bred success. Harris registered 15 points on 9 field goal attempts without committing a turnover.
His defensive aptitude was most encouraging of all. Harris was quick on his feet, keeping his hips square with his assignment and staying in front of him. He denied an attempt at a baseline drive, stunting the play and forcing a reset of the possession. He also blocked a jumper from Bojan Bogdanovic to force a shot-clock violation.
Hassan Whiteside eating anyone’s lunch is more an indictment of your own effort than it is a compliment to the big man. Drummond was simply out-worked by his counterpart in the third quarter. Drummond surrendered a handful of offensive rebounds to Utah’s reserve big, and the Jazz capitalized on the majority of those extra possessions.
To add to the problems, Embiid briefly departed the game in the third quarter to tend to abdominal pain in his right side. With Drummond being played off the court, Rivers had two options — go small, or go to rookie big Charles Bassey. Which was the lesser of two evils? Apparently, it was going small with Tobias Harris in Drummond’s spot.
Harris was tasked with wrestling with Gobert on the block, and a salvageable deficit started to approach the danger zone for the Sixers.
The Sixers were never really in the game in the fourth quarter. The ball pressure left Utah’s shooters open on the weak sides of the floor. Even decent containment of the Jazz’s main threats ripped the Sixers’ hearts out because they just couldn’t recover quickly enough to offer appropriate close-outs.
The frustration on both ends of the floor rose rapidly. Embiid couldn’t get going, and was even assessed a technical for confronting an official for failure to deliver a foul call.
The good news for the Sixers (14-12) is that the Golden State Warriors (21-4) come to town on Saturday! So they’ll surely get back on track, right? Tip-off is set for 8:30 PM EST. You can catch the action on ABC.