Those fierce 76ers (6-1) hosted the Washington Wizards (2-5) on Wednesday in the first half of a back-to-back. The Sixers were looking to build on what has been their best start to a season since 2000-01. The Wizards were looking for their third straight win after starting the season 0-5. Joel Embiid scored 11 of his 38 points in the final five minutes of regulation to outduel Bradley Beal’s career-high 60 points and secure the victory for the Sixers.
Before we get down to business, some notes.
The Sixers were without the services of Mike Scott for a third consecutive game. He is still nursing a left knee contusion.
The Wizards were a full go. They started Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, and Thomas Bryant.
This game, as well as others around the league, was marked with the undercurrent of today’s events in Washington, DC. Doc Rivers, who is a known advocate for player empowerment, offered some words prior to the game on what occurred. “This is not an attack on democracy,” Rivers said. “Democracy will prevail, it always does.”
The Sixers tend to struggle with Bradley Beal (I suppose everyone does–he averages over 30 points per game). Part of it is that they try to fight through screens at the risk of him curling into rhythm jumpers. That could be remedied by switches or hard-hedges to make Beal second-guess himself. What makes that risky is the mismatch that ensues on the screener. If Bryant or a wing is the screener, the switch could present a size mismatch. Switching would also incentivize Washington to deploy the likes of Russell Westbrook as a screener, which is not ideal for any defense.
Hedging may be a better option. But that also leaves an alley for a screener to barrel to the rim looking for a dunk. The other part is that Washington just has some excellent screeners who legitimately clear space for Beal to get open. Beal notched 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the first frame of regulation.
Curry Can’t Miss
Seth Curry continues to be a marvelous revelation for the Sixers. He knocked down all of his six three-point attempts in the first half. For two teams that love to get out and run, it is refreshing that the Sixers have a sniper who can hit shots in bunches in transition. For a team that is intermittently plagued with turnovers, capitalizing on every possession that doesn’t result in a turn is crucial. Curry finished the game with a season-best 28 points, and connected on six of his seven three-point attempts. After the game, Embiid joked, “I don’t know if he [Curry] ever misses.”
Ben Simmons’ refusal to be stopped before reaching the rim in this game was quite the encouraging sign. Simmons displayed a perturbing degree of hesitancy in the first two weeks of the season. Obviously one game doesn’t erase the memory of the previous seven, but his prideful attacking on offense is creating an abundance of open looks for his teammates. The Sixers border on unguardable when he plays with that mindset.
The Sixers committed just five turnovers in the first half. They connected on ten three-point shots and converted nearly 67 percent of their field goals in the first half. The reason their lead wasn’t pushing 30 points was that the Wizards, as horrendous as they are defensively, are a powerful offensive team that exhibits great ball movement. Beal poured in 32 of his own before halftime to pace Washington.
It didn’t really affect him, as he connected on a pair of triples early in the third quarter, but, it is worth noting that Danny Green seems to be playing through some sort of finger injury on his right hand. There have been a couple of instances in which Green will grab the hand, wincing in pain. The pain appeared to flare up early in the third quarter after making contact with a Wizard as he was fouled. Just something to monitor if Green misses any time or has a sudden cold streak.
The Unreal Bradley Beal
We may have our first constructive criticism of Doc Rivers. Beal scored 25 points in the third quarter–again, after scoring 32 in the first half. Rivers elected to test the hot hand, allowing Beal to catch and play on an island. Obviously, Beal felt the disrespect, and he continued to light the net on fire. Rivers did not trap in the pick-and-roll, hedge, switch, or make any other type of adjustment to make his night even the slightest bit challenging. What was a 21-point lead in the middle of the third frame was reduced to a 3-point lead early in the fourth scene of regulation.
After the victory, Rivers joked, “I guess after 60 we probably could’ve made the change.” He added, “We like what Ben was doing as a roamer tonight. Off of Westbrook, they’ve been able to run. We thought it would allow him to get a lot of rebounds and push the break. We felt strongly that we can get a lot of easy baskets. So, that part of it worked. The other part didn’t.”
“They pay me to take over the game. They pay me to dominate. I just did my job.”
This game came down to a fourth quarter push between Embiid and the Wizards. In these first few weeks of play, the Sixers have not really been tested with the pressure of executing crunch time offense. While you wish it didn’t have to come in the context of a 21-point lead being blown, the Sixers responded well. The ball largely ran through Embiid, with Seth Curry initiating a significant load of the offense.
Embiid scored 10 in the final frame, while Beal scored just 2. In the final quarter of play, the Sixers pressured Beal with double-teams on the perimeter to force the ball out of his hands. If he wasn’t giving it up (which, why would he?), he was burning fuel trying to get to a spot where he could see the rim long enough to elevate for shots. Ultimately, this game came down to who could muster enough energy to inch ahead late. Fortunately for the Sixers, they have the depth necessary to hold the fort down so that their stars are refreshed late in the fourth quarters of games.
“We have a ‘go-to’ guy down the stretch.”
Embiid iced the game with a dominant final five minutes of play. He scored all 11 of his points in crunch time, and he scored or assisted on all of the Sixers’ final 17 points. Embiid kept it simple with reporters: “They pay me to take over the game. They pay me to dominate. I just did my job. I always give credit to my teammates. They made the right passes, and I just finished it.”
Coach Rivers added, “We have a ‘go-to’ guy down the stretch. What I liked about what Joel was doing obviously tonight was scoring, right? But, a lot of times is with his pass. Watching him pick teams apart offensively with his passing and his scoring has been fantastic for us.”
The Sixers, at 7-1, continue their best start since the 2000-01 season. They will travel to Brooklyn for a 7:30 showing against the Nets (4-4). The game will be televised on TNT.