The Philadelphia 76ers (30-13) touched down in Golden State to face the Warriors (22-21) for the first game of their West coast road trip. The Sixers were looking to push their current winning streak to three games. The Warriors were looking to avoid a two-game losing streak. Philly outscored Golden State by fifteen points in the fourth quarter to seal a 108-98 victory.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
Seth Curry remained out as he recovers from a sprained left ankle. He did participate in Tuesday’s shootaround. He is expected to be re-evaluated prior to Thursday’s game against the Lakers. Doc Rivers started Ben Simmons, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris, and Tony Bradley.
The Warriors were without Stephen Curry, who is still nursing a tailbone contusion. They were also without Marquese Chriss (broken right fibula), and Klay Thompson (rehabilitation from torn right Achilles). Steve Kerr started Jordan Poole, Kelly Oubre Jr, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and James Wiseman.
After a relatively forgettable game against the Knicks, it was encouraging to see Ben Simmons so hell-bent on getting to the rim in both transition and in the half-court. He was perfectly comfortable overpowering whomever the Warriors put on him in the post, converting a number of hook shots early. He was also resilient in continuing to attack even when the first look didn’t present itself or was cut off. To be fair, he took the aggression up a notch when Draymond Green switched off of him. But, he was still a force to be reckoned with in the opening quarter. His menacing attacks strained the Warriors’ defensive rotations, leaving the Sixers on the perimeter with windows of space. With the Sixers moving the ball so well as of late, it was open season for Philadelphia in the first quarter.
A New Layer
One of the more encouraging developments of recent has been Harris’ improvements as a playmaker off the dribble. Harris has started to detect teammates around the court as he pressures the rim going downhill. He’s seeing bigs in the dunker spot and spotting them for easy finishes as he pushes the lane. If the big isn’t there, he’s finding open shooters on the perimeter. It’s still not consistent enough to be considered an added dimension to his game. But, it’s a promising new layer for a player in the middle of his prime.
The Sixers would’ve put this game away well before halftime had the bench unit not forgotten how to play basketball. The second unit scored 9 points and committed 3 turnovers in its time on the court. The five on the floor were, on average, pushing a -6 plus/minus for the first half. I thought they failed to provide continuity in the intensity that the starting group displayed. Instead of completely taking the Warriors out of the game, they allowed Golden State to get back into the game and tread water up to the intermission.
All of the good will the Sixers built in the first quarter was completely wrecked by the middle of the third quarter. They could not execute on the defensive end of the floor without fouling. When Golden State wasn’t getting to the line, they were capitalizing on open three-point looks. Allow me to translate what that means. It was a dog of a showing in the third quarter.
They lacked focus on the offensive end, missing free throws and committing sloppy turnovers repeatedly. To compound the issue, the Sixers were completely disinterested and lethargic on the defensive end of the floor. Poor close-outs, blown assignments, and uninspired rotations allowed the Warriors to explode for 40 points in the third frame. That might be understandable with Steph Curry playing. Without Curry available to suit up, that is profoundly jarring and completely unacceptable.
“What I liked about his game tonight, he didn’t force it.”
The Sixers continued to live and die by Harris’ playmaking in crunch time. While Harris struggled mightily in crunch time on Sunday, he came up big down the stretch. He didn’t settle for or force jumpers. Harris displayed his basketball intelligence by identifying every opportunity to get downhill going to his left, which he has shown to favor, and pushed the rim doing just that. On the defensive side of the ball, the Sixers rebounded terrifically from a horrendous third quarter with some renewed dedication in the fourth quarter. Philly forced turnovers, rotated timely and efficiently, and pressured the Warriors against the shot clock so that they weren’t getting high-percentage looks. Despite blowing the 24-point lead and trailing by as much as 6 points, the Sixers made up for it with a fourth quarter performance that has become somewhat of a signature this season.
After the victory, Rivers touched on Harris’ crunch time play. “What I liked about his game tonight, he didn’t force it,” Rivers said. “He kind of just let the game come to him. He made plays, not just with the shot, but with the pass. Played phenomenal defense. That told me a lot about him, like, he’s in this to win. He’s not in this for numbers.”
The Sixers earned their twelfth road victory of the season in this game. They recorded 12 road victories all of last season. They needed 38 games to do so then. This season, they only needed 21 games to achieve the same feat. The numbers are showing how much of a difference a new coaching staff has made with this team.
The Sixers will head to Los Angeles to play the Lakers (28-16) on Thursday night. Tip-off is set for 10 PM EST. You can catch the game on TNT.