Embiid goes for 41 and 10 in return, Sixers crush Rockets: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (24-13) hosted the Houston Rockets (19-19) on Martin Luther King Day. Philadelphia wanted to build on Friday's victory over the Sacramento Kings. Houston wanted to rebound from Saturday's loss to the Boston Celtics. Joel Embiid scored 41 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to power the Sixers to victory, 124-115.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Rockets were without the services of Tari Eason, who is managing a left lower leg injury.
Victor Oladipo is recovering from a repaired left patellar tendon and is out for the season.
Jermaine Samuels and Nate Hinton are on two-way assignments with Houston's G League affiliate and were not available.
Ime Udoka started Fred VanVleet, Jalen Green, Dillon Brooks, Jabari Smith Jr., and Alperen Sengun.
The Sixers were without the services of De'Anthony Melton, who has a stress response to a previously sore lumbar spine.
Robert Covington missed the game with left knee inflammation.
Mo Bamba has a fat pad impingement in his right knee and was out. Jaden Springer missed the game with right ankle tendinitis.
Kenny Lofton Jr. missed the game with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Ricky Council IV and Terq Smith are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nico Batum, Tobias Harris, and Embiid.
- Authorizing Embiid to hunt volleyball spikes at the rim at all times has been one of the most significant changes in philosophy under Nurse. That desire to impact shots at the rim means Embiid must stay within a reasonable distance of the basket as often as possible, which also means that Philadelphia is going to want to leave the worst shooter in any lineup open if it isn't the opposing big man by default.
That schematic philosophy played right into the Sixers' hands when Udoka inserted Jae'Sean Tate in the middle of the first quarter. Tate offers Houston absolutely zero shooting gravity, thus spoon-feeding the Sixers an assignment for Embiid to switch to and abandon in favor of the rim.
Tate got a couple of looks form three in the first quarter, and Philadelphia rightfully showed him no respect, conceding practice-level shots as a means of protecting the basket. Those minutes Tate was on the floor were effectively the Sixers kicking the Rockets directly in the mouth, stalling Houston's offense while getting a healthy dose on their own end to build an advantage.
The Rockets were -12 in four minutes with Tate on the court. It wasn't that he even played particularly poorly or catalyzed plays that harmed his team. He just isn't a credible shooter, and the Sixers treated him as such. The domino effect was that his weakness rendered his entire team impotent on the offensive end of the floor.
- It didn't really convey in extraordinary fashion in this game, but you can see how much more confident Maxey becomes when Embiid is simply on the floor. They know that Pitch action concept of their two-man game like they know the backs of their hands. When they run it, you can almost guarantee that Maxey is taking a pull-up three going to his left.
It's not even as if Embiid is a great screener who clears a ton of space for Maxey. He's always been a bumper more than anything, sticking his butt out to knock the ball defender off of their route around the screen but not actually squaring and setting a hard pick. As quickly as Maxey has to move to get to a point where he can pull up, he's always a willing shooter coming off of it.
When you take Embiid off the court and run the same action, Maxey is one to hesitate before letting it go or declining it altogether. Embiid's gravity as a scorer certainly has something to do with how differently Maxey plays compared to when the big man is not on the floor with him. But, more than the output, you just get a fundamentally different mindset out of him. There's much less second-guessing and more liberal three-point volume.
Whether it's the having less attention directed his way or being the second in command, Maxey just seems to be a more comfortable player when he knows Embiid is there. And for all the talk of Embiid's value on the court, nowhere near enough of the dialogue focuses on how much more dangerous he makes Maxey.
- While we're on the topic of under-discussed talking points, we might've reached a point where Patrick Beverley has surpassed Oubre as best addition of the offseason. To be clear, Oubre has been damn solid on a veteran minimum. It's just that Beverley has been so damn stable at that same price tag.
After an absolutely frigid start to the season shooting the ball, he's found other ways to be effective on offense without being a threat from deep. He's not taking many threes, and defenses aren't really treating him as a threat. But, he's leveraging the space they're giving him to make things happen off the dribble. You can see Beverley's intelligence when he has the ball, as he's perhaps the best on the team at keeping his dribble alive until his mind is made.
His craftiness at the rim is one of the things to really emerge for Beverley this season, at age 35. He has made an absolute killing with the ball fake and reverse pivot all season, turning no man's land into a flip shot right outside of the restricted area. Beverley has also mastered the emergency hook shot, attacking the middle of the floor against the shot clock and flipping the ball over his shoulder just to get something that has a chance of clanking off the rim if nothing else.
Perhaps the most incredible part of all of it is that he doesn't really have any burst or vertical pop. He just runs with as much force as he has to get around defenders. I guess all veterans get better when they leave the Lakers?
- This officiating crew certainly had a day. Called a travel on the Maxey double step-back for the first time 38 games into the season; to be clear, I actually believe it's a travel, but how do you let it fly for 38 games before calling one?
Beyond that, they gave Houston possession after a would-be shot clock violation when the ball never came close to touching the rim. Not to mention, they were egregiously late on calling a number of fouls. No Mensa meeting for that crew.
The Sixers (25-13) will host the Denver Nuggets (28-13) on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on TNT.