Tobias Harris Passes

The Sixers took on the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, losing 118-115. It was their third and final scrimmage prior to the season’s continuation.

Before I get into what we saw, some important pre-game information to include:

Contextual Notes

Joel Embiid (right calf tightness) was amongst a trio of Sixers to miss the scrimmage:

The Sixers said that all three were progressing. They are expected to receive treatment and will be considered day-to-day leading up to the team’s first seeding game against the Pacers on Saturday night. Embiid, it was later reported, is expected to be cleared for Saturday’s game against Indiana.

Ben Simmons played 19 first half minutes and did not see the floor in the second half. Per Marc Zumoff (who was relaying the information from the Sixers’ PR staff), Simmons was resting. It was not due to an injury.

First Quarter

The offense returned Ben Simmons to the “Go guy” role early in the game. Off ball, Simmons was spacing out to the corners and waiting for a shot to go up so that he could crash the offensive glass, or catch the kick-out and look to shoot. When Simmons sensed opportunities on the basketball, he was taking it to the rim. Tobias Harris also opened with a high level of aggression. He was looking to get towards the middle of the lane when matched with smaller defenders. The Sixers’ interior offense looked to target Luka Doncic early and often. They were consistently looking to back him into the low post and “bully” their way to the rim.

After deploying their world-famous drop coverage defense on the Paul-Adams pick-and-roll on Sunday, the Sixers opened the game with a hard hedge on the Doncic-Porzingis pick-and-roll. It paid dividends early on:

 

Tobias Harris (1 for 7) missed several (at least four) jumpers, many of which were typical shots for him, short in the first quarter. While one or two is perfectly normal, missing four or more is something to keep an eye on. Not cause for a high level of concern, but certainly a sign of fatigue or, maybe, some sort of leg discomfort. 

Second Quarter

The Sixers, I am certain, lead the league in making every shot they take after the whistle exclusively in games in which they cannot hit the broad sign of a barn with a cannon ball when the ball is live.

While maybe not something you want to see in a competitive NBA game, I would not be opposed to an endless feed of Boban Marjanovic versus Norvel Pelle footage. 

Josh Richardson continued to struggle in his pursuit of an offensive rhythm in these scrimmages. After a combination of second guesses, erratic shot selection, and uncharacteristic turnovers, he finally connected on a triple late in the quarter. Certainly a confidence booster for him to see one go in.

The Sixers, who shot just above 26% from the field in the first half, were very reliant upon Harris’ attempts at punishing smaller Mavericks in the post. Harris finished the half with 16 points (6 for 16) and 8 rebounds. As you can probably imagine, the Sixers were not winning at halftime. 

The defensive end of the court was where the Sixers were able to stay alive in the first half. With a slew of responsible contests on outside shots and 8 turnovers forced, Philly kept themselves in the game heading into the second half.

After an encouraging showing in the first two scrimmages, Al Horford left real life and returned to his Space Jam struggles. Horford finished the half with 3 points, on 1 for 9 shooting, and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes played. He also committed 3 fouls in the first half, and allowed himself to make this abhorrent close-out:

Third Quarter

Ben Simmons did not start the second half, as Brett Brown opted to open with Milton, Richardson, Thybulle, Harris, and Horford. As one would most certainly expect, Harris and Horford carried the offensive load. Harris scored 12 points (4 for 4 shooting) and secured 3 rebounds in the period. Horford contributed 11 points (5 for 6 shooting) without a single turnover in 5 minutes of play before checking out.

While Shake Milton continues to receive heavy playing time, he is rarely featured on any given play. It’s unclear as to whether it’s out of a lack of aggressiveness on his part, or that plays aren’t being run to involve him. You might hope it’s the former, as failing to engage Milton would be another inexplicable mark against Brown. 

The Sixers responded to an abominable first half of shooting by scoring 41 points in the third quarter–two more points than they scored the entire first half. A significant driver of their unclogged offense was utilizing Harris in the post as a “bully ball” forward. He was able to get comfortable in the post, and his ability to remove the metaphoric lid from atop the rim dislodged the bricks that his teammates were throwing up. 

Fourth Quarter

Brett Brown elected Shayok, Burks, Thybulle, Scott, and O’Quinn to open the quarter. Shayok gave us this beaut of a read on a slip-screen of a pick-and-roll with Scott:

Shayok, while seemingly incapable of putting the ball into the basket, showed signs of a passing game, both within and outside of the pick-and-roll. If he can add that dimension to his scoring game, he can become an infinitely more valuable asset to consider for the bench in the future.

Thybulle continues to build confidence and flash an additional layer of athleticism as a diagonal jumper. Three times in this game, Thybulle converted emphatic dunks via offensive putback or off-ball cuts. The next step for him, it seems, is completing a dribble series whilst getting to the rim. Any off-the-dribble game would be a significant development, and would put a bit more air under his ceiling. 

The ineptitude that Burks displayed as an off-ball defender is a microcosm of why he cannot be trusted to play significant minutes in the playoffs. To be back-cut so severely by the equivalent of a rookie in crunch time is unacceptable:

Mike Scott, who was shooting 2 for 9 prior, tipped in the game-tying putback with just under 20 seconds remaining in regulation. JJ Barea’s game-winning triple was blocked as time expired, and we were subjected to overtime. 

Overtime

Burks scored 8 of the Sixers’ 12 points in overtime, but (mercifully) the Mavericks were able to outduel them in the extra session, putting a bow on the scrimmages.

Ben Simmons Guarding Doncic

Evidently, Ben Simmons did not care that it was a meaningless scrimmage, as he dialed in on Doncic. While the second-year guard finished with 23 points on 16 field goal attempts, only 2 of those points came when guarded by Simmons. Doncic converted just 1 of his 3 field goal attempts against the Australian point forward. Simmons forced one of Doncic’s three turnovers. 

The Sixers will look to secure their desired playoff seed beginning Saturday night, when they face the Pacers.