The Sixers (17-7) made their annual visit to Sacramento on Tuesday night to face the Kings (12-11). Philadelphia was looking to establish on a new winning streak after beating the Nets in Philly on Saturday night. The Kings were looking for their fifth consecutive victory. The Sixers outscored the Kings by twelve points in the fourth quarter as they tightened up their defense. They escaped Sacramento with an eight-point victory. It was their fourth consecutive victory away from Philadelphia.

Before we get to the action, allow me to set the stage.

Contextual Notes

Mike Scott was the only full-time Sixer on the injury report. He continues to miss time with right knee swelling. Doc Rivers started Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

DaQuan Jeffries, who is recovering from a left ankle sprain, remained out for the Kings. Luke Walton started De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, and Richaun Holmes. 

First Half

Okay, first off, the next US president to get my vote will do away with 10 PM EST-or-later start times for both NBA and MLB games on weekdays. At the very least, the scheduling has to push those matchups to weekends. Eastern Conference teams only play Western Conference teams twice per season, with the Eastern team playing on the Western’s court once per season, anyway.

If it has to be a 10 PM EST tip-off, hold those games on Fridays and Saturdays. On any other night, those games should be tipping off at 9 PM EST at the latest. Those 10 PM EST start times should’ve been erased this season, especially. There’s limited fan availability in the arenas anyway, so allotting fans time to get to games after a workday or school is not a problem this season. Additionally, the television revenue is more significant than ticket revenue, and games can be viewed through regional sports networks on a number of devices in today’s world, anyway. But, enough of my old boomer rant. Let’s get to the game. 

The jury is still out on the Kings’ high bird’s-eye television camera viewpoint. It makes bank shots look long, and regular jumpers look short. In that sense, it’s a bit of an adjustment on the eyes. However, I do like how the angle makes it abundantly clear whether or not a player’s feet are both behind the three-point line.

At Last, Basketball…

Joel Embiid is receiving some additional freedom off of defensive rebounds to run the offense. More often can you find him retrieving rebounds and then pushing the ball up the floor himself. He’s not quite at the point in his development as a passer where he sees plays unfolding ahead of time and can dime teammates with fancy passes. But, he is at the point where he’s comfortable enough as a dribbler and his midrange game is efficient enough that he can waltz just below the three-point line and can jumpers off the dribble.

In each of the past two games, Ben Simmons has decided to take that additional step to get right below the basket and finishing dunks in transition instead of leaving layups short. It seems simple and obvious, but it’s something that the star point forward has struggled with in much of the early portion of his career. If it’s a discovery that he can consistently remember to use to his advantage, Simmons should be able to add a few points to his average output.

“So we have to be locked in and focused with being able to run with them and getting back.”

Before the game, Doc Rivers mentioned pace of play as something the Sixers had to be prepared for tonight. Was it ever. Sacramento scored 31 points in the first quarter and 40 in the second. It was one of Philadelphia’s worst defensive halves of the season. It felt like they were not quite prepared for the speed with which the Kings move the ball and run.

Tobias Harris talked about Sacramento’s pace after the victory. “Their pace was definitely big, man, we knew coming into the game,” Harris said. “Every time we scored we heard their coaches screaming, ‘Run, run, run!’, so it was kind of an adjustment for us, too. Like, ‘Hey, this team, they believe that they can run us.’ So we have to be locked in and focused with being able to run with them and getting back.”

A huge generator of that speed is Fox, who is absolutely magnificent as a downhill pusher in transition. There were a number of possessions in which the Kings were able to advance the ball down the court well before the Sixers were back, and they were able to capitalize on vacant rims. There were also instances in which various Kings were able to turn the corner with the ball in their hands and blaze lines directly to the rim. The urgency on defense was sorely lacking in the first half of this game, and it was entirely why the Sixers went from up fourteen to down five at halftime.

Some of that speed can be mitigated by assigning Simmons to Fox. His length and athleticism can hinder Fox’s ability to blow by a defender and get downhill. On Saturday, Rivers was hesitant to put Simmons on James Harden until the second half to conserve energy and fouls. The first half of this game felt like another exercise in that philosophy.

Second Half

You would’ve been able to go to sleep rather comfortably, albeit with the taste of defeat in your mouth, had Seth Curry not played in this game. Curry was up to 22 points for the game midway through the third quarter, and provided some pressure-lifting jumpers when the Sixers needed an adrenaline boost on offense.

The Sixers made strides defensively, limiting interior penetration from the Kings’ usual suspects. They also fared better in limiting three-point scores. There was an element of luck there. Some of the open looks that fell in the first half just did not fall in the third frame. But, the Sixers did a much more professional job of making Sacramento uncomfortable from beyond the arc.

Tobias Harris has developed an impressive penchant for coming alive in the fourth quarter. He scored seven quick points in the early stages of the final frame to help put the Sixers in a position of control. His late outburst also applied pressure to Sacramento’s offense to execute without error. Harris has asserted himself as a reliable presence to entrust with the basketball in crunch time situations. There is still an element of shot-creation missing on the perimeter. But, Harris’ confidence and proficiency in scoring efficiently in the pick-and-roll is a needed element for a team that otherwise lacks a veteran in that role.

“It’s so important at the end of the game, your guys understand who you want to play through, and then the ball moves freely from there.”

Rivers had a noticeably shorter leash on Danny Green and Seth Curry in the waning stages of this game. A bevy of the fourth quarter minutes went to a lineup featuring Simmons, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Harris, and Embiid. The idea of that lineup is that it puts better perimeter defenders on the floor. It also allows Simmons to play more off-ball so that Milton can handle in the half-court to close games. The lineup worked, as the Sixers won the final quarter by twelve points. They departed Sacramento with a 119-111 victory.

After the game, Harris spoke highly of Thybulle being trusted with the closing lineup. “We know what he’s gonna bring for us defensively on a nightly basis, especially when he’s guarding an opposing team’s best player and what not,” Harris said. “Having the defensive players like Matisse, like Ben, allows us to switch a little bit more. But, Matisse was working his tail off tonight, sticking right with De’Aaron Fox out there. So, I thought he did a great job of just being in his face, being able to guard him with his feet because Fox is an extremely fast player.”

Rivers spoke of the importance of late game execution with the closing unit. “It’s so important at the end of the game, your guys understand who you want to play through, and then the ball moves freely from there,” Rivers said. “I thought our guys did that, I thought Tobias and Joel did that. But, I thought our entire team did that down the stretch.”

The Sixers (18-7) head to Portland to play guest to the Trail Blazers (13-10). Tip-off is set for 10 PM, EST. You can catch the action on TNT.