76ers fans had revenge on their mind as the home team went up against the Timberwolves on a cold December night at the Wells Fargo Center. It was a night to remember for several reasons.
No Ant-Man sequel
In their first matchup this year, the 76ers were manhandled by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Yes, Joel Embiid did not play in that game, but the Wolves were in the process of establishing themselves as a top contender in the west and wanted to send a message. The player who sent the loudest message in that game was Anthony Edwards.
Emerging as one of the league’s most electrifying and skilled small forwards, Edwards is certain to be an All-Star. In the game they played in Minnesota, he lit the Sixers up for 31 points on 11-22 shooting. He was as dynamic as he was unstoppable. His visit to Philadelphia went differently.
Nick Nurse made it a point to disrupt any type of offensive flow that Edwards was seeking to generate. How did he do that? Two things stand out.
At various points, double teams forced Edwards to pass the ball. In the half court set, when a play was called for the Timberwolves best wing player, you saw a second defender intently pursue Edwards.
Something else that stood out besides the double team tactic was the decision to play K.J. Martin. Since coming over from the Clippers trade, Martin has not seen much playing time. But when Nick Nurse was trying to limit the production of Minnesota’s most athletic player, Martin appeared to be part of that equation.
Edwards still had a decent game, but he shot 9-20 from the field and had a much tougher time at the rim because Embiid was present.
Pick your poison
There’s no question that the 76ers have one of the top offenses in the league. The numbers show. They are the fourth highest scoring team (122.3 PPG) and have the highest point differential (+11.3). A few things can be attributed to their prolific output. Nick Nurse’s new system is one of them. The effectiveness and efficiency of the top duo in the NBA is the other.
Joel Embiid continues to lead the league in scoring at 35.1 points per game. Tyrese Maxey (26.1 PPG) is a top 20 scorer, currently at 14. Minnesota had zero answers for either. In the NBA, they lead all other tandems who have both scored 30+ points in a game this season. Embiid and Maxey have done it six times. The next closest is Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, having done it twice.
Last night, Embiid was flat out dominant. His face-up game gave Minnesota defenders the biggest problem. His ability to score off the dribble, drive the lane, and finish with power or finesse, put Rudy Gobert in a tough spot. If that wasn’t enough, Tyrese Maxey was a thorn that couldn’t be removed.
Whatever Embiid did on the inside or mid range, Maxey handled the perimeter. He was red hot beyond the three-point line, making five triples. No matter who was guarding him, Maxey had his way. To make it worse, his speed proved too much for Mike Conley, or any other guard that attempted to stay in front of him.
The Sixers’ top two scorers were flat out brilliant.
A familiar face
Any time a former Sixer returns to the Wells Fargo Center wearing a new uniform, a tribute video is shared before the crowd. Shake Milton was given his own tribute for the work that he put in for Philadelphia, and the crowd showed love.
While a 76er, he showed flashes of a promising career. There’s the game-winning shot against San Antonio in the bubble a few years ago that stands out. Then, there’s his double-digit game stretch when James Harden was out this time last season where Milton averaged over 20 points a game. And most notably, his 42 point performance against the Clippers several years ago is what garnered him his first bit of national attention.
Luckily, for the Sixers, Milton‘s game was not on last night. He failed to score a field goal, and ended up with just two points from the free throw line. All season, he has been inconsistent for Minnesota. For whatever reason, he just hasn’t found his role yet with his new team. Hopefully, he will make his mark with the Wolves at some point.
Next up for the Sixers are the Toronto Raptors. They play this Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Tip off is at 7:00pm EST.