Momentum heading into this game was the best it has been all season for the Sixers as they rode a 7-game win streak before this matchup with the Hornets. The 22-19 Hornets proved to be the Sixers’ greatest challenge during their recent stretch as their exciting young nucleus shows up to compete on a nightly basis.
Tyrese Maxey cleared health and safety protocols making him eligible to play in this matchup after missing the previous four games. Maxey says he was asymptomatic during his time with COVID and that it was bittersweet watching the team rake up wins as he was eager to rejoin the team. As is usually the case, Maxey’s burst and energy made an impact for the Sixers, and the team saw a major impact of having him back in the lineup.
Early on in the game, it became very clear that the Hornets were making an effort to push the pace. This should have been expected as Charlotte is second in the NBA in pace so far this season. Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball made sure to leak out on the break in an attempt to avoid the Sixers getting set up on defense. As tends to happen when he plays the Sixers, Gordon Hayward was hot out of the gates and ended with 15 first-quarter points.
Joel Embiid picked up two offensive fouls in the first 6 minutes but still managed to lead the Sixers in scoring with 12 points in the first quarter. Tyrese Maxey was not far behind him as he scored 8 points in the first period, including back-to-back three-pointers to answer the Hornets run. This first-quarter performance tied the Sixers’ record for most threes in a quarter so far this season, as they were 6 of 9 from beyond the arc.
The second quarter got off to a rough start as Danny Green went down awkwardly and was forced to leave the game. He appeared to be grabbing at his right hip and went to the locker room but was able to rejoin the bench later in the quarter. Green was able to return to the game in the third quarter but only logged 10 minutes in the game.
The Sixers had a sluggish end to the half and allowed the Hornets to go on an 18-2 run in the final few minutes of the second quarter. Gordon Hayward continued to impress and ended with 22 points on 9-9 shooting and 4-4 from beyond the three-point arc. Joel Embiid was the leading scorer for the Sixers with 16 first-half points but was (once again) the only reliable offense that Philly had. The Hornets took a 64-50 lead into halftime, and the score could have been much worse if the Hornets were connecting at a higher rate.
The Sixers came out of the second half sluggish once again, causing Doc Rivers to call a timeout just 2 minutes into the half. Led by Joel Embiid, the Sixers were able to snap out of it and go on a 15-2 run to make it a game again. The game was a back-and-forth effort throughout the third quarter, with the Sixers unable to cut the lead to less than 8. Despite it feeling like a much larger blowout, the Hornets held an 85-76 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The free-throw line was a sore spot for the Sixers in this one as they shot just 64.3% (18-28) from the charity stripe in tonight’s game. The Sixers were also outrebounded 42-33 and outscored in the paint 56-34 in the paint in this matchup. As a potential solution to these problems, Doc Rivers made the decision to opt for the bully ball lineup and play Andre Drummond alongside Joel Embiid late in the fourth quarter.
While there were moments where this lineup showed success, Rivers left the “King-Kong & Godzilla lineup” on the court for too long. The Sixers lacked the necessary juice to make a full comeback in this matchup and never cut the lead below six. Joel Embiid was able to get his eighth straight game with at least 30 points, but it was not enough to secure a win. The Hornets secured a victory by a score of 109-98 to advance to 23-19 on the season.
This was the best team the Sixers have played during this stretch of games, and it showed. The Hornets are an exciting youthful squad, and the Sixers’ lack of athleticism was put on full display. This should not be looked at as a disappointing loss in the long run, but it sure wasn’t a pretty performance for Philadelphia.
As the trade rumors continue to swirl, it is clear that the Sixers roster is in need of a shakeup. While there has been so much talk about holding out for a star, it has become painfully clear that there are many small holes in this Sixers roster that are causing the current ship to sink. There are a ton of guys who do individual things well, but the lack of athleticism is going to continue to be a problem for this team. Finding a guy who can help get up for rebounds and make smart defensive rotations would go a long way to taking defensive responsibilities of Joel Embiid.
The Sixers now have a record of 23-17 in the year, which will keep them in 5th place for the time being. They will have to find a way to inject some energy into the team ahead of their back-to-back matchups with the Celtics on Friday and the Heat on Saturday.