3 Takeaways as Sixers Squeeze a Win on Embiid’s Birthday

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 06: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) shoots the ball over Chicago Bulls Center Nikola Vucevic (9) during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls on February 6, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

Yesterday marked the 28th birthday for Sixers‘ star Joel Embiid, but there was a matchup with the Cavaliers that got in the way of his celebrations. Embiid was listed as questionable leading up to the game, but it was confirmed shortly before the game, and he was up to his normal productivity in this game. The MVP candidate ended with 35 points, 17 rebounds, and 5 assists in this matchup. This was also one of Embiid’s more efficient performances as he shot 13-19 from the field.

The Sixers were able to take care of business as a team as well and managed to squeeze out a 118-114 victory. Outscoring Cleveland 33-24 in the fourth quarter, the team did just enough to secure a victory over the 6th place Cavs. It wasn’t the prettiest of victories for Philly, but a solid win in enemy territory nonetheless.

Sixers Continue to Allow Teams to Hang Around

The Sixers’ tendency to blow leads continues to be evident. Following their 19-point collapse to the Nuggets in the previous game, Philadelphia allowed a 17-point game to slip away in last night’s game. It has become a theme with this 76ers team to check out for periods of time, and this is a habit that needs to change.

There have been multiple games this year where the Sixers have started slow, as well as stretches during the game where things just don’t look their clicking. While you can’t expect them to be playing their best at all times, having to brace for runs on the opposing team cannot be the norm. In the Cavs game, the Sixers jumped out to a 72-59 lead at halftime before only scoring 13 points in the third quarter tonight.

While the Sixers have enough talent to come out on top in most of these games, this is something the team must improve on as the postseason nears. Basketball is a game of runs, and Philadelphia needs to do a better job controlling the ebbs and flows. With just 14 games until the playoffs, these adjustments need to begin being made now.

The Bench Issues

Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris combined for 100 of the Sixers’ 118 points. In one regard, each of them played very well, and these four are certainly the driving force of the team. On the other hand, the Sixers need to get more production from their bench, and having no consistent scorers is a major concern.

Georges Niang has developed into the bench’s most consistent producer and is on the heels of a difficult 2-12 shooting performance in the second game. The Minivan looked slightly better in this matchup but still only ended with 3 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist on 1-5 shooting. As a whole, the bench combined for 13 points and shot 4-13 as a unit.

James Harden Shooting Woes

Things just about as well as they possibly could in the first five games with James Harden as a Sixers, but there have been some growing pains since. In the Cavs matchup, he ended with 21 points, 11 assists, and 2 rebounds. The biggest concern of late has been his struggles shooting the ball; this continued in this matchup as he was 5-12 from the field and 1-6 from beyond the arc.

The other realization of late was just how impactful the bad games that James Harden can be on the Sixers as a team. Compared to similar players of Harden’s quality, it feels as if his bad games are slightly worse. This has a great deal to do with the isolation nature that he relies on scoring, but when he gets cold, it can take the life out of the building.

In tonight’s matchup, Harden did a nice job embracing his role as a playmaker with his shot not feeling 100% on. Things could be a lot worse in terms of fit, but the 10-time all-star is still learning the balance of playmaking versus getting his own in this Sixers offense. This will continue to develop the more everyone plays together, but finding how this balance impacts the Sixers the greatest is the ultimate key to the team’s success and playoff hopes.

The Sixers now advance to 42-26 on the year, which puts them at 3rd place in the East. Doc Rivers has mentioned multiple times that the team has a load management plan for Joel Embiid and James Harden, but both have suited up every game since he brought this up, so expect some rest in the coming days. The team will now fly back to Philadelphia for a matchup with the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.