Despite the sloppy start to the game in which it took nearly 8 minutes of play for either team to crack 10 points, the Sixers eventually found their footing. Once the team settled in, it was more of the same for the Sixers. The spacing was good. The passing was crisp. The shots fell. The transformation from the clunky old-school team of last season to the modernized (and FUN) team that has been seen this year is extremely exciting.
Another pleasant change that seems to be becoming a theme is the Sixers’ ability to keep their foot on the gas even when having a big lead in games. After the Sixers went on a 27-7 run to end the half, they never looked back. The team went into the half leading 58-43, with an exclamation point put on it by Danny Green knocking down a 3 at the buzzer. Even with a variety of bench players playing significant time in the second half, this lead was never put in danger and the Sixers went on to win by a final score of 118-101.
Regardless of the number of shooters and the effective new offensive system that is being run, the defense will continue to be the identity of this team. The Sixers have two legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and both played like it in the most recent game.
Embiid was an absolute force on the defensive end in this one racking up 3 blocks and 2 steals. He also had several other shots that he narrowly missed sending back, but made the attempt much more difficult nonetheless. The Sixers allowed just 38 points in the paint as a team and almost doubled this result by scoring 64 themselves. As a team, the Sixers forced 16 Charlotte turnovers, compared to the 10 TO’s that they coughed up.
The Sixers did not allow a single Hornet to score 20 points or more and Gordon Hayward led the team in scoring with 18. The defensive rotations looked clean, and Tobias Harris especially impressed with his defensive footwork particularly when he dropped in the post. It appears as if everyone is bought into the defensive potential of the team and Doc Rivers‘ aspirations of the team becoming a “top-5 defensive team,” seem well on their way.
Sixers bench catches fire
Other than Tony Bradley, every player on the Sixers roster entered this game. Of these 14 players, 7 reached double-figures in their scoring totals and the level did not drop when the starters took a seat. It was just a few weeks ago that Doc Rivers spoke about the bench being a “game-changer” for this team. While the game was already in good hands when they were handed the full reigns they proved they are more than capable of handling minutes when needed.
Dwight Howard was especially impressive in this game as he played 18 minutes and patrolled the paint for most of the second half. It felt as if Dwight was in the mix for every rebound and he corralled 13 total boards including 6 on the offensive end. He also added 9 points and his great play is proving to be a major reason why the Sixers are able to rest and protect Embiid in order to preserve his body.
Shake Milton has still yet to have his breakout game this season but added 10 points and 6 assists to the stat sheet. Tyrese Maxey was the major X-factor of the group scoring 11 points and showing signs of a reliable jump shot. After knocking down his fist NBA 3-pointer in the first match-up against the Hornets and followed this up by shooting 2-3 from behind the arc in the most recent matchup. Maxey also had 2 assists and 2 rebounds and an impressive steal when facing Malik Monk that resulted in an easy fast-break dunk. If he can continue to knock down jumpers at a reliable rate, look for his floaters and lay-ins to open up even more and his minutes to continue to increase. There is a lot to be excited about when talking about Tyrese Maxey and with it being just over 2 months since the NBA draft it makes no sense why he was on the board at pick 21.
Sixers rest Embiid
While the Hornets have a solid young nucleus that they are beginning to build around, the Sixers are a team much further in the developmental process. This was clear in this game and presented the Sixers with a prime chance to rest “The Process” himself, in Joel Embiid.
Despite playing 37 minutes in the first matchup against the Hornets, Embiid was able to rest much more in this game. In just 25 minutes of work, Joel scored 14 points along with 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. He also registered a +18 rating and checked out of the game for the final time with just over 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
Doc Rivers referred to it as “old-school load management” earlier this season when talking about Embiid resting once the game is out of hand. With upcoming games against teams like the Nuggets, Nets (without Kevin Durant), and back-to-back games against the Heat, it is important Embiid is at the top of his game. The Sixers are only legitimate contenders if Joel Embiid is healthy and at his best so any chance to give him a rest when a game is out of hand should be looked at as a bonus.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire