Your last memory of real Sixers basketball likely includes what lives in infamy as The Pass. The ugliness of that moment lived on throughout the offseason as Ben Simmons tried to force a divorce from Philadelphia. NBA life doesn’t stop for the Sixers. Last season was a wasted opportunity. The painful memories of the Hawks series scarred the entire tri-state area. But, the Sixers have to make new memories. New editions are built day by day; it doesn’t happen all at once. And on Wednesday night, with the Simmons situation still unresolved, the ball club took the court in New Orleans to open their season, looking to make new memories. Four Sixers scored at least 20 points to power Philly to a 117-97 victory.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Sixers were without Ben Simmons (team suspension), Shake Milton (sprained right ankle), and Grant Riller (recovery from torn meniscus in left knee).
Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
The Pelicans were without Zion Williamson, who is recovering from a fractured right foot.
First-year head coach Willie Green started Devonte’ Graham, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valanciunas.
The Sixers found themselves vulnerable in the lane early in the game. There were a handful of defensive stanzas before the first timeout in which they allowed Jonas Valanciunas to touch the ball with a clear runway to the basket. However, the Sixers’ smaller helpers did an excellent job of stepping into the lanes to make Valanciunas earn his buckets. The extra efforts paid off, though. Despite the clear size disadvantages the Sixers faced as Valanciunas approached the rim, the bodies in the way bothered the Pelicans’ big man. He left a handful of points on the board with misses around the rim in the first quarter of regulation.
Joel Embiid — much to the chagrin of blood pressures everywhere — appeared as nimble as ever in the first frame. He was extremely comfortable with putting the ball on the floor and navigating a half-court environment. Embiid’s footwork appeared sharper, as well. That combination had Embiid bowling to the basket throughout the first quarter. As a player with a natural gift for sensing contact, he was having no problem leveraging that agility to get to the line more, too.
The star big man also balanced his long-distance threat with the taunt of his range by mixing in a pair of three-point makes with a plethora of pump-fakes on the catch. That threat lifted the nearest Pelican defender off the floor to contest, and Embiid was free to barrel to the basket.
Perhaps no one has ever become so comfortable as a playmaker as rapidly as Furkan Korkmaz has. Shake Milton’s absence likely tied Rivers’ hands in his decision as to who would guide the offense in the second unit. But, Korkmaz showed every sign that he was fit for the job. Philadelphia’s offense hummed in transition with Korkmaz pushing the pace. His gravity as a shooter lifted Pelican defenders out of the lane to confront him. That attention opened up the Turkish wing’s passing lanes, and he was more than comfortable kicking to the likes of Georges Niang for rhythm triples in the right corner as he pushed downhill.
The third quarter was a dagger to the hearts of the anti-mid-range crowd, as Embiid feasted on jumpers just below the key in the early stages of the second half. That spurt was a liberating contrast from the end of the first half for Philadelphia’s offense, when buckets were few and far between.
With the lid removed from the basket for Philly, their offense rapidly grew confident. The spacing around the floor improved, as well. With the improved spacing and ball movement, the Sixers had no problem attacking close-outs to pressure the paint.
Tobias Harris was a major catalyst for the Sixers pushing ahead in the third quarter. After struggling a bit with indecision in the first half, the veteran forward found his usual comfort zone in the third quarter. Perhaps he’s not the analytical darling that the modern power forward is because of his unwillingness to chuck from beyond the arc. But, Harris is a menace within fifteen feet of the rim. Whether it’s pushing downhill and changing paces to get defenders off balance, or just out-muscling individual matchups on his way to the cup, Harris is extremely adept at battling traffic to finish below the rim.
As you might’ve expected, a fourth quarter barrage from Furkan Korkmaz essentially iced the game for Philadelphia. Between some aggressive drives and an inspired touch on pull-up triples, Korkmaz catalyzed a run that put the Sixers up by more than 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Fast Break Points
- Tyrese Maxey registered 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in 34 minutes; he committed just 1 turnover.
- Andre Drummond collected 17 rebounds off the bench.
The Sixers (1-0) will host the Nets (0-1) on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM EST. You can catch the action on ESPN.