Tobias Harris at the free throw line in Sixers-Nets game; Jan. 25, 2023

The Sixers (30-16) hosted the Brooklyn Nets (29-17) on Wednesday. Philadelphia aimed to win its sixth consecutive game. Brooklyn wanted to push its own winning streak to three games. A late run from the Sixers helped stave off the Nets in an offensive slugfest, 137-133.

Before we get to the game, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Nets were without the services of Kevin Durant, who is recovering from a sprained MCL in his right knee.

Day’Ron Sharpe missed the game with a sore lower back. Dru Smith is on a Two-Way G-League assignment with the Long Island Nets and was unavailable.

Jacque Vaughn started Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Royce O’Neale, and Nic Claxton.

The Sixers were without the services of Furkan Korkmaz, who has a sore right shoulder.

Jaden Springer missed the game with a non-Covid illness. Louis King and Julian Champagnie are on Two-Way G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were unavailable.

Doc Rivers started James Harden, De’Anthony Melton, Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, and Joel Embiid.


Embiid may have been listed as ‘Questionable’ heading into this game, but he had fire in his eyes well before the game even in started. He was more locked in from the jump than anyone in the building. As the face of the franchise playing in front of his home crowd, he should be the most locked in. But, there was no funny business from him in the first few minutes of this contest. He wrestled around with Simmons and a variety of other Nets in the post, sealing anyone tasked with defending him off and establishing himself for a touch down low.

There was no settling for perimeter jumpers. Embiid played with a stroke of physicality that is rare for him. He was exceptionally quick to the basket, showing speed and first-step burst that he hasn’t shown perhaps since his rookie or second season. He did have to pull up for a couple of jumpers in the first quarter, Brooklyn converging on the ball and blocking his avenue to get to the basket. But, his moves absolutely demolished the Nets inside, even when the finishes weren’t always there. While all but one of his five field goal attempts in the first frame missed the mark, Embiid got to the charity stripe a handful of times to get his work done.

Tyrese Maxey’s struggles as the team’s sixth man were very short-lived, the energetic guard firing on all cylinders in his role. The sixth man mindset is simple, and yet can be overthought because of the degree of freedom the authorized player has. Maxey’s job is simply to pump points. And yet, he can do that in a variety of ways. On any given night, it’ll be driving, midrange jumpers, outside shooting, or a combination of all of it.

On Wednesday, it was all about jump shots in the first half. Maxey created space with elongated stepbacks before knocking down midrange jumpers off the dribble. He called up screens to get the switch he wanted before dazzling with a dribble move and pulling up for threes. Maxey scored 16 points in 10 minutes in the first half, putting on an absolute clinic from beyond the arc. He got a couple fortunate bounces, a pair of threes missing off the rim before hopping up and into the basket. He also smoked the net after getting defenders off balance with one-on-one dances. The second quarter was Maxey’s and Maxey’s alone, giving the team some juice after the emotions between both teams’ starters cooled off.

I thought the Sixers did a really good job of getting Simmons off the hot hand with guard-guard actions. Simmons couldn’t just silence any one Sixer because the Nets defend in a switch scheme. So, the screen is always going to take him off the ball. A traditional pick-and-roll has the effect of getting a mismatch for a quick guard against a heavy-footed big or a big with a much smaller defender on his back.

The Sixers are not the best example because they can be happy with either ensuing matchup. But, most teams are screening against switches to get the shot-creating guard on an island against a helpless big. Philadelphia’s guard-guard actions present unique challenges because either one can roast the defense. So, if Simmons made life difficult for Harden for a stretch, he’d call Maxey into the action to attach no. 10 to a different assignment. Those actions worked well, the ensuing matchup furthering Philadelphia’s offense.

That’s the type of creativity that I think the Sixers need to lean into more often in the second half of this season. Maxey has become particularly adept at setting touch screens and slipping screens for pops out to the perimeter. Whether it’s he or Melton, the result is chaos for the defense.

Wasn’t the most prolific Harden game, but Philadelphia would’ve been in a good bit of trouble had it not been for some difficult three-point makes from Harden in the fourth quarter. The offense totally stalled against Brooklyn’s zone. But, there he was to answer the call with a pair of triples in isolation to silence the Nets’ runs.

He’s not a prolific rebounder, but Melton certainly deserves some praise for his work on the offensive glass. Melton snuck in amongst the trees and grabbed multiple critical offensive rebounds for the Sixers when the first shot was off the mark. He extended multiple possessions for Philadelphia in the guts of the game.

Not the best Embiid game on either end of the floor, and both teams were putrid on defense. But, he made the game’s biggest defensive play, reading a lob pass to Claxton and intercepting it for a steal to secure the victory for Philadelphia.


Philadelphia appeared ready to run away with this one early in the first quarter. But, the Sixers totally lost their cool on defense after a hot start. Missed assignments, letting shooters dribble into space, bad fouls. All of it was a symptom of lacking focus. That’s probably because of the intensity of the environment, it being the first time Embiid played against Simmons in Philadelphia. But, the Sixers lacked discipline on defense throughout the game. And they let emotions get the better of them early in this one.

Those emotions manifested in a combined five technicals fouls between the two teams in the first 18 minutes of the game. Difficult from my angle to say whether the technicals were warranted, but it did feel like the whistle was a bit strict in this one. Speaking of the whistle, a total ref show throughout. It might’ve had something to do with the backstory between these two teams and that commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance. Don’t want anything getting out of control with the commissioner there to see it all unfold.

On the topic of control, there were a handful of possessions in this contest in which Embiid lost control on offense. He tried to put the ball on the floor and serve dribble moves as if he were a guard. Embiid is not a great dribbler to begin with, and he was trying to dance a bit against Brooklyn defenders who had their hands low and extended in search of deflections and tip-aways. It was sloppiness from the big fella that went beyond even his normal tendencies. Not sure who he was trying to show up, he’s by far the best player either team had to offer in a game that had no Durant.

This game would’ve been over about halfway through the fourth quarter if the Sixers simply didn’t forget about Seth Curry. The former Sixer absolutely torched Philadelphia. He scored 32 points off the bench in the game. But, the fourth quarter was his show. The Sixers were late fighting through screens for him all quarter long. If the fight-through wasn’t there, the other defender in the action was below the level, giving Curry open pull-up threes. The Sixers let their guard down a bit too early. It manifested in miscommunication on pick-and-rolls. And as a result, they got burned by a player they should know quite well. 

Can’t let Harden’s shotmaking in the fourth quarter bury the fact that the Sixers’ offense was abhorrent against the Nets’ zone in the fourth quarter. Rivers likes to posit that the team’s zone offense is fine. But, things never seem to look easy for them when teams go to zone. The pace slows and the ball movement isn’t crisp and timely. It becomes very difficult for them to get the ball inside to Embiid. Philadelphia did simply miss some open threes that would’ve otherwise busted the zone. But, the team mostly looked lost against it.

On the topic of Harden, he misread and telegraphed quite a few post entry passes in this game. Those plays are so brutal for the Sixers because they usually get the opposition charging in a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 fast break, and one of those defenders is going to be Harden. ‘Disadvantageous’ is putting it nicely. 

The Sixers (31-16) will host the Denver Nuggets (34-15) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on ABC.


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