The Philadelphia 76ers (15-12) visited the Memphis Grizzlies (16-11) on Monday night. Philly wanted to build upon its impressive victory over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, while Memphis intended to push its winning streak to three games. The Grizzlies connected on 14 threes to bludgeon the Sixers, 126-91.
Before we get to what I saw, allow me to set the scene.
The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid (right rib soreness) and Seth Curry (right shoulder soreness).
Ben Simmons is still not mentally ready to play and was unavailable.
Grant Riller was out 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, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Andre Drummond.
The Grizzlies missed Ja Morant (sprained left knee; health and safety protocol) and Brandon Clarke (sore right knee). Sam Merrill and Ziaire Williams were both out with sprained left ankles.
Taylor Jenkins started Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr, and Steven Adams.
The only basketball teams that struggle with making layups in transition more than the Sixers do are JV teams. On Saturday, they left about 10 points on the board in the fourth quarter (Draymond Green is also a ‘Sicko’-level defensive player). On Monday, Matisse Thybulle fumbled a bunny, and then Andre Drummond followed it up with a missed dunk. Tobias Harris is featured on that reel, as well. Those bloopers are funny when they happen once in a while. To be fair to the Sixers, they’re 11th in field goal percentage at the rim. So, they’re teetering on the top third of the league in that regard. Given the team’s margin of error, the little things need to be better, though.
Failing to cash in on those open-court opportunities with any type of consistency is concerning. But Andre Drummond’s feel for threading needles as a passer opens their play at the rim up in the half-court quite well. There were multiple instances in which Drummond roped passes on backdoor cuts to get Harris and Furkan Korkmaz buckets at the rim. That is a dimension of playmaking that Philly lacked behind Embiid’s dominant scoring, and Embiid, himself, will seldom detect those opportunities.
In some ways, the two bigs compliment each other quite nicely. Embiid is the superstar. He sucks up the usage when he’s in the game. But when Drummond comes in, the second side of the court opens up as the other four players feel empowered to move around the ball with purpose. As much as Drummond’s scoring game lacks, his passing inspires the second unit. The reserves, collectively, have disappointed. But there’s enough talent beyond the starters to hold down the fort if there’s a catalyst on the court to deliver difficult passes. Embiid is the spotlight. When his head is in the game, Drummond is the glue guy. And it’s a partnership that seems to work better than any Embiid-backup tandem has before.
Rivers gave Isaiah Joe about two minutes to prove his worth and then shunned him to the bench. I don’t get it. Did the head coach have a vendetta against the backboard? Did he want to see Korkmaz bruise it with heavy rocks? Unless Joe stepped on Rivers’ prized putter while getting back on defense, I fail to see the justification for such a short leash on the second-year wing.
Harris got off to a slow start, but he answered the bell with a couple scores towards the end of the second frame. He’s still dribbling too much. You can see the gears turning in his head with each passing dribble. If those possessions don’t end in missed shots, they end in pointless passes that all but guarantee the shot clock will be the biggest obstacle the team faces.
The regression might’ve seen its low point for the game when Harris passed time with a couple dribbles in the corner before throwing a pass to Drummond at the free throw line after half the clock expired. I bet you can guess how that possession went. But all in all, he connected on a pair of tough jumpers in the lane and got to the line prior to intermission. So, there’s a pulse!
Tyrese Maxey is slowly starting to lower his risk aversion to making passes beyond the strong side of the floor. He let a few go against the Warriors, and he manufactured a crafty alley-oop to Drummond that was deflected by the Grizzlies for a turnover. The turnovers are going to happen sometimes. That’s part of growing as a playmaker. Fortunately, it didn’t factor much into the outcome of this game.
Live-ball turnovers, live-ball turnovers, live-ball turnovers. The Grizzlies’ length perhaps falls under the radar a bit. But, the dismantling started there. The Sixers have sported a terrible transition defense as is. With the athletic, big, and physical Grizzlies flying around to disrupt passes, the Sixers were blown off the court.
Philly left the lane unattended, and Jaren Jackson Jr had himself a party. Even if it wasn’t a transition play, the Sixers were a rotation short on Memphis’ extra passes, and it was dunk city. The Sixers had no answer for the physical mismatch that Jackson posed, and he ate them alive in the third frame.
There was actually a bit of value to derive from the final scene. Charles Bassey has some serious power around the rim. He ripped down a pair of vicious dunks with Grizzlies swarming him at the cup. Obviously, he’s very strong with his upper body. And, man, is he long. But, his footwork is impressive around the basket. He doesn’t do anything fancy. But, Bassey plants both feet with authority and really widens his stance. So, he establishes himself and plays with balance. It was extremely difficult for Memphis, in all their size, to move him. On the other end of the floor, the rookie big man stepped right up and asserted his athleticism with a powerful block at the rim.
It’s anyone’s best guess as to what his future holds with Philly — not because he won’t become something, but because they might trade him before he has a chance to become something. If not, Bassey has the fundamentals, intangibles, and instincts to be a great find late in the second round. He was one of the few bright spots after the boat-racing commenced.
Shake Milton struggles with bouts of inconsistency, but his length is a major weapon around the rim. So often there are plays in which he turns the corner against bigger defenders and manages to sneak the rock around them for layups. Not only does that length allow him to beat them to the cup, but it helps him draw fouls as he lays the ball in. If that sounds like something you’ve seen recently, it’s because does it quite often now. Milton is not enrolled in LouWill University, but he’s developing a sense for finding that contact and using it to his advantage.
The biggest concern you should have about this iteration of the Sixers is their perimeter defense. Shot-creation can be acquired. But, I’m not sure you’re going to recover the prowess Ben Simmons has on the perimeter. They’re constantly late to contest the extra pass or out of position, and Memphis embarrassed them on corner threes on Monday. The best hope might just be, if he’s still on the roster past trade season, that the Sixers can convince Ben Simmons to return and play with urgency.
The Sixers (15-13) will host the Miami Heat (16-12) on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.