Matisse locks in

The Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) hosted the Golden State Warriors (28-29) on Monday night. At tip-off, Philly had a 2.5-game lead over the Nets for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race and a four-game winning streak. The Warriors were looking to get back on track after a hard-fought loss to the Celtics on Saturday night. The Sixers, in their 107-96 defeat, simply had no answers for another dominant shooting display by Steph Curry, who scored 49 points in the contest.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Warriors were without:

  • Eric Paschall (strained left hip flexor)
  • Klay Thompson (rehabilitation from torn right Achilles)
  • Juan Toscano-Anderson (concussion protocol)
  • James Wiseman (torn right meniscus)

Steve Kerr started Steph Curry, Kent Bazemore, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney.

The Sixers continued to be without Tobias Harris, who is nursing a sore right knee. Before the game, Doc Rivers dismissed concern about Harris’ lingering knee issue. He claimed that, while it isn’t a load management situation, the Sixers expect Harris will be available to play in the near future. Philly was also without Ben Simmons due to an undisclosed, non-COVID illness. George Hill was finally available to make his heavily anticipated Sixer debut.

Rivers started Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Danny Green, Mike Scott, and Joel Embiid.

First Half

The Sixers jumped out to an early 12-0 lead with equal parts hot shooting and inspired defense. The Sixers defended each of the Warriors’ first six shots with urgency, putting forth professional contests on all six. Prior to the first timeout of the game, Golden State could not muster easy looks, let alone any scores.

“Sometimes those cuts or those drives don’t result in me getting a layup, but it results in somebody else getting a good shot.”

As his season has progressed, one of the more promising developments in Matisse Thybulle’s game has been his willingness to attack close-outs on the perimeter and push the rim with sharp drives. His finishing still needs some smoothing, but it is imperative for him to add that countermove to his bag of tricks, as rudimentary as it is. The next step is going to be the counter for when there’s traffic in front of him. Now, he’s throwing junk up there and praying that Dwight Howard can corral the offensive rebound. The evolution needs to be a jump-stop and pivot or pump-fake before making his next decision. For now, Philly’s offense is better for him becoming a comfortable attacker off of the three-point line. 

Thybulle, who’s always thinking about how he can help the team, does it for unselfish reasons. “Just this year’s been trying to get a feel for when I can do that to open up things for other guys,” Thybulle said after the game. “Sometimes those cuts or those drives don’t result in me getting a layup, but it results in somebody else getting a good shot. I think just tonight was a night where I got more layups than others, and if anyone who watches, you watch the way I cut, I think it opens up a lot for, whether it’s corner threes or driving lanes. It’s something I kind of pride myself in and just tonight was one of those nights where I happened to get a couple of layups.”

The Shake Milton Regression

Even with Hill making his debut, Shake Milton maintained point guard duties in the first half of this contest. That’s fine, as it would be ridiculous to think Hill can jump right in and direct an offense he doesn’t know yet. However, I would expect Milton will pass the sticks to Hill in the near future. Right now, he’s not consistent enough to be an effective lead guard in the second unit. With an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 1.75:1, Milton’s playmaking is virtually nonexistent. That inconsistency on the playmaking front bleeds into his scoring output, as he’s either hitting everything or nothing. Once Hill gets more comfortable with taking the on-ball duties, moving him into that role should unlock Milton and, as a result, help stabilize Philly’s offense.

The offense became rather simplified for the better with Embiid’s second stint in the game. The goal was clearly to get Draymond Green to foul until Kerr was forced to pull him out. The strategy didn’t change once Green left, either. The Sixers were feeding Embiid in the post virtually every possession and letting him decide what was best.

Seth Curry felt some type of way about playing against his brother. Curry only needed ten attempts to accumulate 15 points in the first half, and he looked quite fluid and purposeful off the dribble. On the other side, the older Curry did just what he does. A 20-piece in the first half for the greatest shooter to ever play.

Second Half

It’s much easier for me to sit in front of a television and see this than it is for Embiid to actually realize it in real-time. But, there was a play early in the third quarter in which Embiid had Mike Scott spotting up in the opposite corner with the Warriors parting the seas for him to make an easy pass to his teammate. Instead of making the pass, Embiid opted for a bank shot with multiple Warriors draped on him.

To his credit, he made the shot. I’m not saying that Embiid intentionally ignored the open Scott, or that it was a bad decision. It certainly was an understandable shot given how incredible Embiid has been this season. No one is really in a position to question his shot selection. But, I thought it was pretty telling as to how poor Scott’s play has been in these two-plus seasons in Philly. Embiid opted for a double-teamed bank shot at a difficult angle instead of passing to a wide-open shooter. It wasn’t like he wasn’t looking to pass, either. Embiid dished 6 assists through three quarters, as well. So, it’s hard for me to believe he simply didn’t see this look:

There’s nothing wrong with Embiid making this read. My point is that it speaks to how difficult of a tenure it’s been for Mike Scott in Philadelphia. It’s impossible for anyone to ignore.

Tyrese Maxey stepped up to provide some much-needed juice while Embiid recharged in the second half. Maxey put some incredible pressure on the rim and was insatiable in his drives. The remarkable thing about the young man’s game is that, even when playing time hasn’t been exhaustive, his consistency as a finisher has not faltered. His mid-range jumper has been relatively consistent, and the three-point ball needs work, but Maxey is never shy. He exhibited impressive comfort in getting to the teeth of Golden State’s defense and then creating offense himself when the Sixers were running dry. Maxey was instrumental in turning a 7-point deficit in the closing stages of the third frame into a 1-point lead before Embiid came back.

“I think he would have been huge for us in this game on both ends, and we’ll be a better team when we have him back.”

This dance came down to the final eight minutes of regulation, and that’s where Steph Curry came alive. The legendary guard  scored 20 points in the final period. Rivers could’ve made defensive adjustments to isolate Thybulle as the one and only defender on Curry. But, the Sixers forced Curry into difficult looks. It just didn’t matter. That’s the greatness of Steph Curry, who connected on 10 triples to continue his outrageously blistering month of April. The Sixers really felt the pain of missing Simmons in this game. A number of Curry’s makes down the stretch came upon breaching the ball screen because he felt the rhythm and comfort of having cleared his defender. Simmons, with his size and strength, often takes that comfort away. Without the pressure on his inside hip, Curry could let it fly all night without even the slightest bit of hesitation.

Thybulle agreed that Simmons’ presence was missed. “Ben’s just so, so tall, he’s so strong,” Thybulle said after the game. “He makes it really hard for guys to get angles, like the angles that they want, especially coming off the ball and coming off pin-downs, and details and whatnot. So, I think he definitely could have impacted it. I think he would have been huge for us in this game on both ends, and we’ll be a better team when we have him back.” 

“What I should’ve done, probably, was going back to what I did against the Clippers.” 

The Sixers were ultimately unable to answer Curry’s heat wave in the final frame because they couldn’t get the ball to Embiid in a spot where he wouldn’t promptly be double-teamed. Golden State sent the double-teams all night. But, the baseline helper made it impossible for Philly to establish Embiid in the low post. He was forced to catch the ball higher, taking away the pivot on the block and compromising Embiid’s angle for making plays out of the double. After enough doubles, the Warriors were able to neutralize Embiid late, and that was all she wrote for Philadelphia. 

Embiid offered his own insights into where he was getting the ball in crunch time. “It would be better to catch the ball higher,” Embiid said after the loss.

“So I have a better vision for my teammates, for me to make passes. What I should’ve done, probably, was going back to what I did against the Clippers. Playing more at the nail, it’s hard to double. And then, you saw it against the Clippers, it was harder to double. If you do, I see the whole floor. Tonight, for the most part, all game I made the right decisions. So, the playmaking, whether it would have been at the nail or in the post, I thought it would have been the same. But, for more scoring options, especially down the stretch, we weren’t making shots. So, for more scoring options, go to the nail, where they give a little more space.

The Sixers (39-18) will host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM EST. You can catch the game on NBATV.