Photo by Wayne Terry, TPL

The Sixers finished off their preseason slate with a date against the Pacers in Indiana on Friday. It has been a busy last few days for the Sixers, who were rumored to be making Ben Simmons available in trade talks for James Harden yesterday. Before the game, Doc Rivers talked to reporters about the rumor: “I don’t get into all that. I can tell you that none of this has started from us. And so we definitely did a call last night, but I’m not going to show what was said. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of our business, and it is what it is.”

Having addressed the elephant in the room, the Sixers got down to business on Friday night. But, before we discuss the game, some notes.

Contextual Notes

Joel Embiid missed the game with an undisclosed illness. A team official confirmed to reporters early on Friday afternoon that it was not related to COVID-19. Before the game, Doc Rivers re-affirmed to reporters: “We’re just being safe, you know. We expect him [Embiid] to be ready for practice when we get back.” Dwight Howard started in Embiid’s place.

Brian Bowen II, Amidah Brimah, Jeremy Lamb, Myles Turner, and TJ Warren were all unavailable for Indiana.

First Half

Ben Simmons played like someone who didn’t take kindly to trade rumors in the beginning of this game. He started regulation with an aggressive push to the basket after a side pick-and-pop. The action created space for him to attack the rim for a finish. He remained aggressive in both the half-court and full-court settings, applying downhill pressure on the rim and kicking to shooters on the perimeter. 

Especially interesting is the seeming chemistry that Simmons and Dwight Howard have on the court already. Simmons found Howard with a full-court pass early in the first frame. He then dangled an alley-oop perfectly for his big man after Howard set a strong screen. 

Tobias Harris’ slow decision-making continued into this game. Harris committed a pair of particularly painful turnovers after having opportunities to attack closeouts off of the catch. The timid decision-making is something that Doc Rivers has shed light on frequently in talking about Harris. Rivers has mentioned during numerous camp availabilities that a focus for the forward is to quicken his decision-making and become less pensive with the ball in his hands.

Maxey Mania Continues

Tyrese Maxey was the beneficiary of significant first half minutes after being kept until the fourth quarter in the preseason opener. Maxey continues to turn heads with his calm, controlled play. Especially encouraging was that his downhill pressure in the pick-and-roll was just as aggressive and consistent as it was in his unofficial debut. He continued to get to the rim and convert opportunities in a crowd of defenders.

Even with his electrifying play in these first two games thus far, I think his playing time is worth monitoring when the games start to count. Of course, it is possible the coaching staff wanted to reward Maxey for his performance on Tuesday. His increase in minutes on Friday night could also be that his opposing counterpart was TJ McConnell, who profiles as a less potent matchup than most point guards, at times. Time will tell if that theory is valid, though.

Second Half

Seth Curry got off the schneid in the third frame. He scored the Sixers’ first four points of the second half. He also connected on a rather difficult floater on a drive to the rim later in the third. Curry showcased the confidence he has exuded in his media availabilities leading up to the preseason. The guard has said on a number of occasions that he shouldn’t be limited to a catch-and-shoot role. He has repeatedly echoed his self-belief that he can handle the ball and craft his own scoring opportunities off the dribble. 

It appears as though there is an element of overlap with Doc Rivers’ playbook and Brett Brown’s playbook. The Sixers ran “12” featuring Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz in the final frame of regulation. For those who don’t remember, that was on the Sixers’ “greatest hits” playlist from 2017 to 2019. They ran it endlessly with Ben Simmons and JJ Redick. In the play, the shooter sets a slip-screen and fades out to the perimeter while the ball-handler attacks the screen. At the last moment, the ball-handler turns around and fires a pass back to the shooter. The gravity and athleticism of the ball-handler causes the helper and the on-ball man to converge on the screen. That effectively leaves the slip-screener wide-open for a three-point shot. Milton and Korkmaz executed it to a tee, with Korkmaz depositing a pair of triples off of the open looks.

“There’s gonna be nights where our bench is gonna win games for us, and that’s a great thing to have.”

The Sixers trailed by seventeen points early in the second half. The difference in this game was the bench output. The Sixers’ bench outscored the Pacers’ equivalent 64-30. With the starters preserving themselves for meaningful play throughout the majority of the second half, the Sixers seized control in their 113-107 victory on Friday night. The bench depth continues to be a highly underrated feature of this iteration of the 76ers. The credibility of that depth aids the argument that this could be the best group they have ever assembled around Embiid and Simmons. The Sixers’ performance on draft night etched that sentiment into stone, and Doc Rivers believes in his replacements. “There’s gonna be nights where our bench is gonna win games for us, and that’s a great thing to have,” Rivers said after the victory.

The Sixers’ far-improved bench helped them sweep their preseason slate, and now they get ready to host the Washington Wizards on opening night. Opening night, by the way, is December 23rd. Tip-off is at 7 PM, EST.