The Philadelphia 76ers (28-13) hosted the Sacramento Kings (17-24) on Saturday night. Philly was looking to rebound from a loss to the Bucks that snapped a six-game winning streak on Wednesday. The Kings were looking to push their winning streak to three games. Tobias Harris’ near-first-career triple double led a team effort in the short-handed Sixers’ 129-105 victory over the Kings.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Sixers were without Ben Simmons, who was dealing with left knee soreness. Seth Curry was also unavailable due to a sprained left ankle. Doc Rivers started Shake Milton, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Tony Bradley.
The Kings were without Marvin Bagley III, who is recovering from a fractured fourth Metacarpal of the left hand. Chimezie Metu (fractured right wrist) and Jahmi’us Ramsey (strained right hamstring) were also unavailable. Luke Walton started De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, and Richaun Holmes.
The Sixers did a particularly effective in playing more East-West than North-South in the first quarter. That isn’t to say they were trying to play the Kings’ game, though. Rather, they weren’t eating time with aimless dribbling around the perimeter. Their offense consisted of straight-line driving. The Kings are already a horrific defensive team. With the line-drive play, the Sixers were having no problem cracking Sacramento’s interior and causing them to make mistakes with their rotations. As a result, Philly connected on six of its eight three-point attempts in the first quarter.
“I’m telling you, yesterday was a straight-line practice or we did it again.”
That line-drive style has been critical to Tobias Harris’ resurgence in Philadelphia. The basis, of course, is being much quicker in making decisions. The stagnant dribbling without any progression towards the basket is both a product and instigator of indecision. The Sixers, as a group, were very quick to cultivate paths to scores and did not waste time in executing them. The quick actions were forcing the Kings to react quickly on the defensive end, and that paid significant dividends early for Philly.
The unusually-sharp line-drives, according to Rivers, were a product of preparation. “I’m telling you, yesterday was a straight-line practice or we did it again,” Rivers said. “No dancing, no extra dribbles. I mean, we really drilled it yesterday because that, to me, is who we have to be. Quick decisions, straight-line drive, pass to the open man. I thought we did that so well tonight, but I thought it started yesterday.”
The Sixers sensed early on that the Kings were nothing resembling an inspired team on the defensive side of the floor and exhibited high success in transition in the early stages of the game. Sensing Sacramento’s vulnerability in that department, the Sixers did a fabulous job of pressuring passing lanes. Forcing the Kings to make long passes in crowded spaces, the Sixers were able to intercept those exchanges and generate live-ball turnovers. When you’re absent three of your top four contributors, among the best sources of offense is going to be defense.
“He made some tough ones and that’s gonna happen.”
There was only detractor that I observed in the first half. Even with their proud defensive principles, the Sixers did a poor job of keeping eyes on Buddy Hield. His looks weren’t coming in transition. A number of his three-point looks came from extra passes on defensive breakdowns. If not that, they came courtesy of quick relocations after Kings’ offensive rebounds. While there was much to be satisfied with on the defensive side of the ball for Philly, they could’ve limited Hield’s damage in the first half. What could’ve easily been a 30-plus-point halftime lead was a 21-point halftime lead because of Hield’s outburst.
Danny Green leaned more on the side of praising Hield’s shotmaking than on the side of besmirching his team’s defense after the game. “He’s a great player, man. We did what we were supposed to do, for the most part. We probably went under maybe once or twice, but he got his shots,” Green said.
“He made some tough ones and that’s gonna happen. You’re gonna have somebody some nights get hot and make some tough shots. But, he got it going. We could do a little better. Next time, if we see them again, we’ll probably play a little differently. But, it starts with De’Aaron Fox, head of the snake, and then him. So, we got to do better to contain him. But we got our pace, we did what we’re supposed to do, and took care of things offensively, which kind of slowed them down a little bit, as well.”
You can often gauge how the game is going for the Sixers by surveying whether Dwight Howard is leading run-outs on offense. Howard was navigating transition opportunities as the ball-handler midway through the third quarter. Things were going that well for Philadelphia.
A Culture Of Accountability
Late in the third quarter, viewers could hear Rivers express dismay with the fact that the third unit had allowed a 6-0 run to cut a thirty-something-point lead to somewhere in the twenties (my apologies for the cavalier wording, I was preoccupied with something else and did not note the score). That small token of accountability is a microcosm of how different the culture is with this franchise under new leadership.
The evidence of accountability is rampant, and the energy that the team plays with is much improved. In seasons past, a fully-healthy Sixers team would find ways to cough up games against inferior competition that was short-handed to begin with. Now, they’re winning games without Embiid and are even holding their own in games in which neither Embiid nor Simmons play. Part of it is the stars have matured a bit, part of it is that the veteran role players are a much better fit. The biggest factor, however, is Doc Rivers and the culture he’s instilling.
Tobias Harris fell just two assists short of his first career triple-double. He finished with 29 points on eighteen field goal attempts, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists. He did not commit a turnover. His superstar performance was a microcosm of the whole game for the Sixers. He dominated the Kings from start to finish, and his teammates simply followed his lead. From efficient scoring, to finishing defensive possessions, to making the extra pass, to taking care of the ball, the Sixers played a complete game and earned every bit of their 29th victory.
The Sixers (29-13) will head to New York to play the Knicks for the second time this week. Tip-off is 8 PM EST on Sunday. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.