Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

The Philadelphia 76ers (34-15) were back in action against the Memphis Grizzlies (23-23). It was Philadelphia’s second leg of a weekend double-header. The Sixers outlasted the Timberwolves on Saturday, and were looking to push their winning streak to three games with the Grizzlies in town on Sunday. The Grizzlies were looking to win their second in a row. Philly allowed an offensive slog to trickle into poor effort on defense, and the Grizzlies blitzed them, 116-100.

Before we get to the game, some notes.

Contextual Notes

Out of precaution, Joel Embiid missed the game as part of his recovery plan. He returned to play on Saturday night. George Hill remained out as he recovers from surgery on his right thumb. Before the game, head coach Doc Rivers provided some insight into the projected sequence of events will be for Hill. Rivers said that the veteran point guard must play in a live setting before he can play an actual NBA game, and that Hill hasn’t played in a live practice yet. He would not give a timeline for when Hill would finally be available. 

Rivers started Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Mike Scott.

The Grizzlies were without Justise Winslow (sore right thigh) and Jaren Jackson Jr (recovering from surgery on left meniscus). Taylor Jenkins started Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jonas Valanciunas.

First Half

One of the biggest areas of improvement for Tobias Harris this season has been his finishing through traffic. Last season, he couldn’t seem to find the angle when pushing the rim and often left junk hanging short or going long. With his fickleness at the rim, defenses were not all that concerned with pushing him to one side of the court over the other, and it became easier to dictate his offense. The higher efficiency at the rim has made him more confident and willing to push a little further through adversity. He’s not timid and is more willing to play the role of aggressor on offense. As a result, he’s more comfortable leveraging his size and body to navigate the paint.

“Scoring is, I’m just telling you, the least thing that I’m concerned about.”

I have never been one to tie Simmons’ value as a player to whether or not he attempts jump shots. But, he will need to become more consistent with taking the extra step right at the basket to create dunks instead of leaving layups. The level of fury with which Simmons has pushed the rim in this double-header has been tremendous. If he continues to take that approach and develops those driving angles to the point of not feeling the need to pick up his dribble before the rim, I don’t care if he ever shoots jumpers.

Rivers insists that he isn’t worried about Simmons’ mentality as a scorer. “I think Ben’s a facilitator,” Rivers said after the game. “I think that’s what he does, I thought he did great early on. Then, after that, I thought they all got tired. As the game went on, less and less driving happened. I think you guys are way more concerned about Ben’s scoring than I am. I think Ben does so many things for this team that help us win. Scoring is, I’m just telling you, the least thing that I’m concerned about.”

The single most maddening aspect of some of the bench lineups that Rivers rolls out is that Furkan Korkmaz is empowered to be a ball-handler. The extra decision-making cause him to second-guess his jumpers. On top of that, he rarely ever positions himself to make the easy play when passing. Korkmaz generate a lot of live-ball turnovers that allow the opponent to get run-outs. As Rivers has hammered home over and over again, the Sixers feel they have a ways to go with their transition defense. Korkmaz’s ball-handling is not helping the team improve upon the issue.

The Mike Scott Experience

Almost nothing is going well for Mike Scott at the moment. He has exhibited absolutely zero consistency from three-point range this season. He’s at the point where a good night is going 1-for-4 or 1-for-5. To add insult to injury, he’s now tripping and falling on pick-and-rolls and falling asleep in the lane on defense. I can’t say with any level of confidence that his confidence is dwindling. But, he’s human, and this poor play cannot be fun. I do feel for him, but he’s absolutely unplayable. His minutes are a product of lacking depth. The one thing right now is that the team loves his presence in the locker room.

Rivers doesn’t trust his next best option to fill in for Scott, though. “I like Paul [Reed], but I don’t think he’s ready,” Rivers said after the loss, “Just straight-forward.” 

Second Half

Philadelphia’s defense fell apart quickly after the intermission. After Memphis lit it up from deep in the first half, the Sixers did not appear to make any adjustments to account for shooters. They allowed Grayson Allen to leak around the three-point arc and get whatever he wanted early in the third. The Sixer defense essentially gave in once the deficit ballooned beyond fifteen points. The Grizzlies were getting to the rim without hesitation. Everyone from Ja Morant to Brandon Clarke was scoring in the paint without much resistance. That is a function of defensive intensity and effort. Philly’s defense simply softened, and that is totally unacceptable.

“I just pull it out when I need to.”

Once the blowout was official, some of the Sixers’ youngsters got opportunities to showcase themselves a bit. I was particularly impressed by Paul Reed’s ability to finish with his left hand through contact. As raw as he is at times, that he can push left and finish through contact is an excellent indicator of both his physical capacity and his dynamic potential. Beyond that, his energy is infectious and his second jump to claim blocks at the rim is phenomenal. I’m not sure I believe he’ll break the rotation by the playoffs (surely not if Daryl Morey and company are able to find a stretch-big on the buyout market), but I am increasingly confident that his growth will afford the Sixers comfort with putting money towards other needs in free agency.

To Reed, that ability to finish left is nothing new. “I think that’s something I always had in my bag,” Reed said after the loss. “I just pull it out when I need to. Whenever the opportunity comes, I use it. You know, make plays.”

Rayjon Tucker’s Motor Is His Meal Ticket 

Rayjon Tucker’s defensive athleticism is wildly intriguing. There was one play in which he slid from the elbow to the block in one step and spiked Valanciunas’ layup attempt off the backboard. Tucker’s motor is his meal ticket right now, and he is quite adept at generating extra possessions with offensive rebounds. The skill on the offensive end is still a work in progress, but he offers intangible attributes, such as both vertical and horizontal athleticism, that are quite desirable on the defensive side of the floor. If it doesn’t happen for him in Philly, there is something worth taking a flyer on elsewhere.

The Sixers (34-16) will head to Boston to face the Celtics (25-25) on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 PM EST. You can catch the action on TNT.