Embiid logs triple-double in return as Sixers destroy Bulls: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (22-10) hosted the Chicago Bulls (15-19) on Monday. Philadelphia wanted to avenge Saturday's loss to the Bulls. Chicago wanted to clinch the season series against the Sixers. Joel Embiid registered a triple-double through three quarters as the Sixers trounced the Bulls, 110-97.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Bulls were without the services of Zach LaVine, who is recovering from right foot inflammation.
Nikola Vucevic missed the game with a sprained left adductor.
Lonzo Ball is recovering from surgery on his left knee and was out.
Torrey Craig has a sprained right plantar fascia and was not available.
Onuralp Bitim has a nasal fracture and was out.
Henri Drell is on a two-way G League assignment with the Windy City Bulls and was not available.
Billy Donovan started Coby White, Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams, and Andre Drummond.
The Sixers were without De'Anthony Melton, who has a sore lumbar spine.
Robert Covington missed the game with a left knee effusion.
Furkan Korkmaz has an illness and was out.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nico Batum, Tobias Harris, and Embiid.
- "Unpredictability" as it pertains to the Sixers' offense has resurfaced as a theme of praise for Nurse recently, even though I haven't been as blown away by all of the different ideas the Sixers have tried lately as I was earlier in the season. That whole concept as a beacon of brownie points starts with Embiid, just as everything else does with this franchise. But, you could see that unpredictability in the simple stuff early in this game.
The Embiid-Maxey two-man game has been talked about to oblivion. Thus, there's a trust between the franchise player and his co-star. Embiid licenses Maxey to make decisions with the ball by flipping it to him as the young guard glides past him on the perimeter. Both having career-best seasons thus far suggests that it's working quite nicely.
What doesn't get a lot of attention is Embiid's two-man chemistry with other teammates - probably because there just isn't a comparable sample size of it. But, a good way to pay homage to that unpredictability is to mix up who you're willing to run the action with. That's what Embiid did, initiating DHOs or pick-and-rolls with teammates other than Maxey in the first quarter.
- A couple factors helped Philadelphia get out to an unsustainably hot start in this game, the variation that came with Embiid running two-man game with other teammates amongst them. The Sixers - coming off two days of rest after losing to this same team by double digits at their house - were both refreshed and probably a bit hungry for revenge. The history of teams splitting these two-game series suggests that it's inherently difficult to sweep anyway. But, Philadelphia also got its superstar back in the lineup for the hosting portion of this set. So, not only were they more prepared and motivated, but the game was simply easier.
You felt the bump from Embiid basically as soon as the game started. The shots Philadelphia got - many of which came directly from Embiid - were generally very good looks. The proof that shot quality was very much in the pudding, or nylon netting.
The Sixers started the game with seven made threes in their first nine attempts and just one turnover. The Bulls, by contrast, made as many twos in the quarter as the Sixers did threes, didn't log their first made three until the second quarter, and committed two turnovers in the opening frame.
All of that is to say that the Sixers got a ton of open looks from deep in the first quarter - largely because of Embiid's gravity - and rode the wave of an absolute heater. That, in conjunction with the Bulls being unable to buy a basket to save their lives, might as well have been the whole story of the game.
- That isn't to say the Sixers didn't defend. They were quite connected on that end of the floor. Some of that likely comes from knowing you have your insurance policy roaming around the rim. But, the Sixers blew up a couple of possessions just by being in the right place at the right time and jarring the ball loose. The big difference on the defensive end was, of course, Embiid.
A two-game series in which Embiid only plays one of the games is a really good environment to see his true value on both ends. But, particularly on the defensive end. Many of the same shots the Bulls felt authorized to take back in Chicago induced record-scratch moments simply because they saw Embiid so much as lean in the direction of shutting down the drive.
They were either totally disrupted and bothered at the rim just by the thought of Embiid, or passed out of the drive to take threes on a night they were frigid from the perimeter. The big guy registered one block in the first half - he didn't need any to show his impact on the defensive end of the floor. His timing, hands, and footwork were outstanding after not playing a real game in over a week
- As great as the three-point shooting was, I thought Philadelphia's attentiveness off the ball was sensational in the first quarter. Not only was everyone moving around the perimeter, but they actually acted upon many of the spaces created by the attention Embiid garnered. They cut on time and often, making themselves available to the big man at the rim.
You want to help Embiid be his best self in the playoffs? Be the release valve for the pressure he faces on double-teams. Whether it's cutting right down the middle of the paint or flashing through from the wings or corners, identify those gaps and make your move.
But, the difference between being outstanding on any given night and being a well-oiled machine is executing on those reads consistently. Consistency builds the muscle memory that Embiid needs to develop now in order to trust it in the playoffs. Perhaps as important as any of it is that Embiid's teammates clearly feel that there's an incentive to cutting off of his touches, which is to say that he's a much more willing and skilled passer now than ever before.
- Switch scheme is perhaps the equivalent of covering a piece of meat in blood and tossing it into shark-infested waters. The meat is Maxey, who has actually made some real strides on defense this season. The sharks are the opposition's best isolation scorers. As soon as the Bulls tested the waters and saw Philadelphia was switching, they wanted Maxey's man to come screen for DeRozan so that their heavy-hitter could go to work.
For the record, I say don't bail Maxey out by adjusting away from switches. Use the regular season as a testing ground for Maxey to figure out some ways to be more successful when teams go mismatch-hunting against him in the playoffs.
There were a couple of possessions in which the Sixers just fed DeRozan the matchup instead of letting him get the advantage with a potential driving angle included. The problem is that Maxey doesn't have the muscle mass to deny bigger players positioning in the post.
But, conceptually, I actually really like the idea of avoiding the pick-and-roll switching and just feeding the mismatch right off the bat. That's something I think the Sixers should consider when evaluating trade options at the deadline.
Let's assume for a second that they're going to acquire a guy who has a few inches on Maxey. Let's say, for example, that player is Bojan Bogdanovic. Much bigger than Maxey, but also much older and, thus, less agile. Bogdanovic's defense has slipped this season; who knows how much of that has to do with playing for the lowly Detroit Pistons? But, if you're willing to play the odds that opposing stars won't be able to hit enough shots in isolation or body into the post against that mismatch on enough possessions, I think your pool of interesting trade targets widens from legitimate two-way wings to guys who lean towards filling needs on offense.
Perhaps it's Bogdanovic, perhaps it's someone else; the principle is that spoon-feeding the mismatch at the top of the floor instead of switching on screens makes it more likely that you'll get a stop. And Philadelphia's willingness to do that with Maxey guarding DeRozan from the start on a couple of possessions at least signals a desire to test it in the regular season.
Perhaps it's valuable data, perhaps it's nothing. We'll know in February.
The Sixers (23-10) will host the New York Knicks (18-15) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on ESPN.
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