Embiid and Maxey dominate as Sixers get signature win vs Wolves: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (18-8) hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-5) on Wednesday. Philadelphia wanted to rebound from Monday's loss to the Chicago Bulls. Minnesota wanted to extend its winning streak to four games. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey combined for 86 points to push the Sixers past the Timberwolves late, 127-113.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Timberwolves were without Jaylen Clark, who is rehabbing a ruptured right achilles tendon.
Leonard Miller and Josh Minott are on assignments with Minnesota's G League affiliate and were not available. Daishen Nix is on a two-way G League assignment and was out.
Chris Finch started Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert.
The Sixers were without the services of Nico Batum, who has a strained right hamstring.
Robert Covington was out with an illness.
Terq Smith, Javonte Smart, and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Nick Nurse started Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Embiid.
- It was really, really difficult for Philadelphia to get anything started on offense. In fact, so much so that Minnesota jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes and change of the game. In desperate need of anything, Embiid used his brain to flip the script.
His aggressive efforts on the first possession of the game drew a foul on Gobert. It was a silly reach-in that the Wolves' defensive ace surely would want back. But, the first foul coming so early gave the Sixers some leverage. If they could force the guy anchoring the league's top defense to the bench with foul trouble, it would be pivotal.
Embiid saw an opportunity to create such a predicament for Minnesota, and took advantage. Gobert overplayed a post-up to try to deny the entry pass, but Embiid secured the lob and immediately had a track to the hoop. The natural instincts that kick in when you get beat sent Gobert to the chairs with two early fouls. Naz Reid tried to spell him for eight-and-a-half minutes. But, the entire quarter changed.
It wasn't Embiid's most dominant quarter by any stretch. In fact, the box score said Minnesota did a relatively admirable job of refusing to let him get off to a hot start. But, it was Embiid's recognition of Gobert's foul trouble and acting upon an opportunity to get him out of the game that might've saved the Sixers from an early hole.
- This aside has very little to do with the actual game or this team's big picture, but there was one defensive play in which Embiid closed out hard and got beat. Yet, he recovered by doing a reverse spin and basically met the guy who attacked his closeout near the paint. The move essentially erased the error entirely. I don't know how many players have the length, agility, and footwork to recover like that, but I'm surprised I don't see defenders try it more often.
- After getting some excruciating minutes out of the non-Embiid lineup to begin the second quarter on Monday, Nurse's lineup choice was quite effective on Wednesday. They helped build a double-digit lead while Embiid recharged. I think the key to those units is, and this may blow your mind, ball and player movement.
Maxey did indeed author a helluva run during that stretch, but the Sixers also got some really good motion out of that group. As simple as it is both in practice and theory, one of the best things that group can do is dock Paul Reed around the nail and, if something doesn't materialize on one side, throw it his way just to pivot and facilitate a DHO with Maxey.
That idea is concerning if you're asking Reed to actually make multi-layered decisions. But, you're not. If they overplay or top-lock Maxey to try to deny the handoff, he cuts backdoor and Reed hits him in stride (something he's proven capable of doing, by the way). If they give him the middle, then you take the DHO.
The concept you're chasing is simply using both sides of the floor and not restricting the operation to just one half. The more you space, move, and pass, the healthier you are. Imagine that.
- All the meaningful good in this game can be summed up in three words: Embiid and Maxey. For a guard whose size poses questions against the best defenses, Maxey devoured a team sporting elite defenders both on the perimeter and inside.
Minnesota applied some fake high pressure with McDaniels, challenging Maxey out by the timeline but giving him space to work. He was patient but decisive, attentive to teammates that were suddenly open because Minnesota pulled in with Maxey initiating so high on the court. But, he didn't pre-determine that he would defer. If he didn't feel there was an open shot one or two passes away, he meandered around the hardwood until a screener came up to free him. Then, it was time to go.
Maxey carved into the paint, using his speed to put pressure on Gobert. A handful of his buckets came by sneaking the ball past Gobert's outstretched hand at the last second. But, he also got to his floater and was aggressive from beyond the arc.
Maxey scored at all three levels all night long. His dynamic nature was on full display en route to a 35-point night. He practiced body control at the rim, rising up into the trees and powering through contact for an and-1. He came off pin-down screens and stepped into catch-and-shoot threes. It would've been entirely Maxey's night had it not been for the guy we're about to talk about.
- Embiid shot 1-for-6 in the first quarter, which is its own form of basketball comedy because he finished with 51 points. He had a 20-point first half, which, as of late, seems like a down half for the big guy. He absolutely came alive in the second half, though.
With the Sixers suddenly short two regular starters (more on that below) and Edwards starting to cook, it looked like trouble might be brewing for Philadelphia. Fear not, though. Embiid was just getting started. With the guy many have penciled in for Defensive Player of the Year staring him in the face, Embiid attacked from all angles. He dropped silky 15-footer after silky 15-footer, jabbing with his foot to see if Gobert would bite before letting his muscle memory do the work on contested jumpers.
I wrote in a previous game story that he's really worked on adding a crossover to his isolation game this season, and he put it to work once again in this one. If the jab-step jumpers weren't quite to his liking, Embiid shifted Gobert out of his way with a quick move.
And if he had someone other than Gobert on him or just didn't feel like taking another jumper against that specific Timberwolves big man, no problem. He applied his weight and force, getting to the rim for thunderous finishes or trips to the charity stripe for his efforts.
It was a beautiful mix of aggression for the reigning MVP. He was totally game to get physical inside against anyone who wanted to try him, but he was also very aware of how polished his midrange touch was in this battle.
We can debate where this game ranks in the pantheon of all-time Embiid regular-season games, but it must be up there with the very best. This opponent, his team a bit short-handed, the force he applied to make plays on both sides of the ball; this one was near the top, if not at the top.
- Man, oh man, do the Timberwolves complain about calls. Every team does, to be clear. But, Minnesota acts like a felony has been committed against them every time there's contact. It would be a great bit if, once per month, there was one game in which officials simply didn't call anything in Minnesota's favor. Just see how they react and whether they catch on and start to complain less and less.
- Melton had a very forceful knee-to-thigh collision with one of the Timberwolves late in the second quarter. He left the game with help from head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson and Maxey. He was diagnosed with a left thigh contusion and did not return.
The Sixers (19-8) will host the Toronto Raptors (11-16) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can watch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
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