The Sixers (14-12) hosted the Kings (14-11) on Tuesday. Philadelphia wanted to extend its winning ways to three games. Sacramento wanted to get back on track after a loss to the Knicks on Sunday. A dominant second quarter gave the Sixers a lead so big even they couldn’t relinquish in a 123-103 beatdown of the Kings.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
Sacramento was without the services of Alex Len, who has a non-COVID illness. Chima Moneke is on assignment with Sacramento’s G-League affiliate and was unavailable.
Mike Brown started De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes, and Domantas Sabonis.
Philadelphia was without Tyrese Maxey, who is recovering from a small fracture in his left foot.
Before the game, Doc Rivers expressed hope that Maxey would be able to participate in a practice by the end of this week. Rivers said that Maxey has been able to run and shoot, activities he was unable to do last week.
De’Anthony Melton missed the game with back tightness.
Danuel House Jr. has a laceration on his left foot and was unavailable.
Julian Champagnie and Saben Lee are on Two-Way G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were unavailable.
Rivers started James Harden, Matisse Thybulle, PJ Tucker, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
Even with Harden’s shooting touch being ever so slightly off the mark in the first quarter, he made up for it with his quarterbacking of the offense. Whether it was passes over the top that were slightly long so that only Embiid could retrieve them, or leveraging his gravity to find the man left unattended by defenders who fled to help on Harden, the bearded guy sprayed the ball all over the court. Even if he wasn’t getting the assists, he saw shots from miles away. One play in particular stood out, Harden dribbling away from the strong side, only to flip a behind-the-back pass to Georges Niang, who swung the ball to Shake Milton in the corner for a decent look at a triple.
Harden wasn’t wasting dribbles nearly as much in this one, either. It was quick passes ahead, or meaningful dribbles intended to bend Sacramento’s defense in some way. He wasn’t telegraphing passes or beating a dead horse with the same play over and over again. From Tucker and Thybulle to Harris and others, everyone was eating the meal that Harden cooked. It was truly a clinic in point guard play.
And when Harden’s jumper finally caught up to him, you could put the game on ice for all intents and purposes. He authored a run with his shooting and passing in the second quarter that gave the Sixers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Embiid was the beneficiary of much of Harden’s point guard play. All first half long, he was stepping into rhythm jumpers or catching the ball deep under the basket. Embiid didn’t have to work all that hard for the scores he got because of how well his teammates, namely Harden, set him up. And when he wasn’t lifting into practice-level jumpers or catching at the rim, Embiid was catching on the move and driving to the rim for finishes, not a King in front to abate him. Embiid’s work around the basket, both on the drive and on catches near the cup, gave Sacramento’s bigs a fit. Any King who dared try to inhibit him was punished with a handful of quick fouls. Sacramento, like most teams, had no answer for Embiid’s mixture of footwork, physicality, and touch in the first half. And it was really all the Sixers needed.
The story of the whole game, really, was the first half. You could even zoom in and isolate it to the second quarter. Philadelphia clamped down on Sacramento with excellent pace on offense, even if the Sixers weren’t necessarily getting out in transition. They made a killing on live-ball turnovers, getting out in the open floor for easy buckets that way, as well. Harden, alone, had five steals ahead of halftime. Even when it was a Sacramento missed shot, they were quick to get the ball up the court to beat the Kings’ transition defense. To put the icing on the cake, the Sixers really didn’t settle on their end. Philadelphia got the ball to the corner for good looks from deep. The Sixers also got to the rim for authoritative finishes when they cut hard within the half-court offense or had the advantage in transition.
Just an all-around ass-kicking. Hard to find much bad about this one.
If Thybulle wants more minutes, he didn’t do much to sell his head coach on investing more trust in what he brings. The now-veteran wing picked up his first foul 20 seconds into the game, body-checking Fox on an inbound pass some 90 feet from Sacramento’s basket. He then committed another foul seven seconds later, sentencing himself to the bench with two fouls shortly thereafter.
Look, the act is getting old. The more you watch Thybulle, the more you notice him falling behind his assignment, sometimes because his gambles in the passing lanes don’t pay off. It’s not like he recovers, the ball-handler gets a blow-by for a bucket at the rim. That, of course, is when he’s not inexplicably fouling jump-shooters. It would be one thing if he was making up for those miscues on offense, but we all know the story there. So, you’re left wondering what he really does well besides sniff out errant decisions in the passing lanes. Cutting off the ball might be on the list. But, it’s hard to field an argument that the list extends much beyond that.
The Sixers (15-12) will host the Golden State Warriors (14-14) on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on ESPN.