The Philadelphia 76ers (16-7) hosted the Brooklyn Nets (14-10) on Saturday night. The Sixers were looking for redemption following a walloping at the hands of the short-handed Blazers in Philadelphia on Thursday. The Nets were on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost the first leg at home on Friday night against the Raptors. The Sixers had seven double-digit scorers and dispatched the Nets, 124-108, with a dominant second half.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
Brooklyn was without Kevin Durant (h/s protocol), Kyrie Irving (sprained right index finger), and Nicolas Claxton (right knee tendinopathy). Reggie Perry was away on G-League assignment. Steve Nash started James Harden, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Joe Harris, Jeff Green, and DeAndre Jordan. By now, you’ve likely heard about the bizarre Kevin Durant situation that unfolded over the last day.
The Sixers were without Mike Scott (right knee swelling) and Terrance Ferguson (h/s protocol). Joel Embiid was available to play after suffering a hyperextended knee in the game against the Blazers. Ben Simmons and Seth Curry were both available after missing Thursday’s game, as well.
The Nets picked up a pair of technical fouls half way through the first quarter. The first was on DeAndre Jordan for words he used to express his gripe with a no-call on an offensive interference from Danny Green. The second was against Harden for passive-aggressively tossing the ball to the official (was a rather ridiculous call, in my opinion). Embiid went to the line on both technicals, and converted both opportunities. The first technical is understandable, as every player has a right to voice displeasure or frustration with a call. In today’s league, the reaction to calls may even earn a review and reversal. But, in general, the second one is without sense.
In this instance, the punishment did not fit the crime. But, there are occasions when multiple warranted technicals will be dished out. Embiid is always going to be the designated shooter when he’s on the court, and no one on the floor is a lock to convert a free throw to the extent that he is. So, that second technical, over a call that won’t be changed, sends an excellent free thrower to the line for another point and slows the game down and enables the Sixers to catch their breaths. Further, yelling at the official is not going to do much to inspire the official to make calls that favor you.
The Backdoor Is Open
Over the last few games, Matisse Thybulle has shown flashes of off-ball cutting that made him a weapon of sorts in last season’s offense. In this game, he was dimed on a backdoor cut for a finish at the rim. Thybulle is going to go through lulls of providing absolutely no consistency from deep. The offensive side of the ball just isn’t his skill set at this stage of his career. He’s not a particularly good shooter when he’s on a hot spell, and his cold spells are particularly painful. But, his length on the defensive end is critical. If Thybulle can detect and hit on those off-ball movements for easy looks at the rim, his role on this team won’t be questioned. There’s a job for him in this rotation, but he has to smooth over the jagged edges by finding those lanes to the basket more consistently.
Tobias Harris struggled to hit from the outside for the second consecutive game. But, he was effective on the inside, battling for four offensive rebounds in the first half and scoring with aggression around the rim. He contributed twelve points and made his money working below the basket.
“Like I said, can’t get too high, can’t get too low.”
Joel Embiid attempted six triples in the first half. With the season he’s had, I’m fine with him taking any shot he wants. But, this Nets team is painfully thin in the paint. Embiid is going to get much better looks below the free throw line. Seeing as the knee injury clearly affected him for the remainder of the Portland game, it’s worth wondering whether he stayed away from the paint in the first half to protect that knee from contact.
Embiid defended taking such a volume of triples after the game, saying, “I mean, I was wide open. Like I said, can’t get too high, can’t get too low. I’ve been making everything, which, I mean, from the midrange today I still feel like I made everything. Then from the three-point range, I felt it, as soon as I left it and I shot it. It felt good, it just didn’t go in tonight. Like, I said, can’t get too high, can’t get too low. It’s gonna go in, sometimes it’s not gonna go in. If they leave me open, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t shoot it. So, yeah, I’m gonna keep on doing it.”
Danny Green carried the brunt of the load guarding James Harden in the opening scene. The former-MVP redeemed 13 points on thirteen attempts, with one free throw, in that first half. You would hope that the Sixers would be able to pull away in the second half by putting Simmons on The Beard.
Danny Green was the beneficiary of a pair of triples from the left corner midway through the third quarter that changed the momentum of the game. The two makes came after Green was issued a technical for arguing a silent whistle on a three-point attempt on which he felt he was fouled (it was a good no-call). There’s not much analysis to be done or discussion to be had here. But, the degree to which Green was open on both attempts was a microcosm of the Nets’ defense this season. There was at least six-and-a-half feet of space between Green and the closest defender on both. Brooklyn is going to have to do something to address their gaping hole on that side of the court.
Rivers thought those triples were tone-setters for his team. “I thought that was a big turning point in the game, really,” Rivers said. “Get the tech. Get a couple stops. We started pushing the ball up. That was a key going into the game. We felt we could attack the paint in transition and it would lead to threes, and that’s what happened.”
“I thought once we made the switch that was one of the big turning points.”
There have been very few blemishes on Doc Rivers’ first season with the Sixers. But, allowing Harden to heat up early in the second half made little sense. The issue could’ve easily been resolved by sicking Simmons on one of the game’s very best scorers. Yet, he continued with Danny Green as the primary assignment. There’s only one sensible rationale behind it, at least in my eyes. Maybe Rivers didn’t want to give anything away in the regular season when there’s a sizable chance these two teams could clash in the playoffs. But, the Nets will also have plenty of time to adjust to Simmons guarding their best offensive players then, too. The league already knows Simmons’ reputation as a defender. So, if I were a coach, I would just put my best defender on the opposition’s best player and maximize my team’s chances of winning.
After the game, Rivers talked of the decision: “You try to use anyone else as long as you can, which gives Ben the advantage, especially as far as energy-wise,” Rivers said. “I thought once we made the switch that was one of the big turning points. I didn’t want him to start out on him, Harden just draws so many fouls, creates too much stuff. Our goal was to try to get to the second half. We did that, and it worked out pretty well.”
The Layups Need To Be Dunks
Ben Simmons botched what would have been an easy finish over Tyler Johnson in the third quarter. It was caused by his trying to convert a slick layup instead of taking the dunk. Those plays are understandably frustrating for the fans. Those missed layups are an easy two points for a player whose scoring output has been far from elite. Given his size and athleticism, there’s no reason those layups can’t be dunks. He’s also intelligent enough to know that he can make them dunks if he takes one more step instead of jumping early.
In fairness to Simmons, he did redeem his miss by slamming one down on Johnson in a similar play a few possessions later. He was, of course, given a technical foul for voicing celebration on the dunk.
The Sixers moved to 13-0 with their normal starting lineup in place, finishing off the short-handed Nets, 124-108. They will head out West. Their first opponent will be the Sacramento Kings (11-11). Tip-off is scheduled for 10 PM, EST. You can tune in on NBC Sports Philadelphia.