Embiid, Maxey, and Harris all shine in win over Raptors: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (19-8) hosted the Toronto Raptors (11-16) on Friday. Philadelphia wanted to build on Wednesday's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Toronto wanted to rebound from a loss to the Denver Nuggets. Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris combined for 97 points as the Sixers dispatched the Raptors, 121-111.
Before we get to the game, some notes.
The Raptors were without Christian Koloko, who has a respiratory illness.
Markquis Nowell, Jontay Porter, and Javon Freeman-Liberty are on two-way G League assignments with the Raptors 905 and were not available.
Darko Rajakovic started Dennis Schroder, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl.
The Sixers were without De'Anthony Melton, who has a left thigh contusion. Nico Batum missed the game with a strained right hamstring.
Patrick Beverley was out with a sore right heel.
Mo Bamba has an illness and was out.
Terq Smith and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris Sr., and Joel Embiid.
- There was one reason the Sixers were in this game in the first half, and one reason alone. No, not Embiid; although, he got going closer to halftime. No, not really Maxey, either. It was none other than Harris, who broke out of a weeks long slump in a major way.
He opened the scoring for Philadelphia, notching a fading jumper out of the post. He then came down and laced a triple off a pass from Embiid a few moments later. He saw the ball go through the hoop a few times early, and that was all he needed to get going. He converted four triples in the first half, including a reset after a dip-in and step-back to create space. Harris wasn't just great from the perimeter, though. He was strong going to the rim, approaching defenders with ferocity and overwhelming them at the rim. He was strong through contact, getting to the line for a couple of and-ones.
Harris scored 24 points in the first half, but that wasn't all the work he did. He kept his eyes up, finding teammates all over the floor. Harris is neither a strong playmaker nor a good passer, but he did have a great moment of playmaking in the second quarter. He connected with Oubre on a cut, commanding attention with a hard drive and then dumping off to his teammate for a dunk on the move.
Not normally a great rebounder, Harris took advantage of a number of long Toronto misses. He chased the ball down off the rim, securing it on the run to get Philadelphia into transition on numerous occasions.
The often-maligned forward was tracking a triple-double in 21 first-half minutes: seven rebounds and five assists to go along with the scoring mentioned above.
- After one of the best games of his career, Embiid had nothing going until late in the first half. I thought the way he was officiated was despicable, and that was surely part of it. (An aside on officiating - don't just change the rules during the game because a guy is getting an exorbitant number of free throws. If it's a foul, call it. Real simple.) But, he also had more turnovers than points for a significant portion of the first half. It didn't help that he appeared to tweak his ankle trying to contest a Poeltl layup.
Embiid stayed in the game, but was clearly in pain for the remainder of the night. Even as he labored on, Embiid found ways to impress. His defense wasn't quite at the level it's been for a big chunk of this season. But, he simply decided to take over in the third quarter, and that was basically all she wrote. Toronto tried to double hard; they tried to shade; they tried everything. Embiid didn't mind. Reverse-pivot into a fading jumper; rainbow fadeaway from the top of the key off of one leg with three hands in his face; he was unbothered. 31 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists for the big guy. Ho-hum.
- Maxey had it going pretty much from the jump. But, he saved his best for the fourth quarter. He got so hot from deep that the Sixers started playing the DHO game when Embiid checked back in. If he couldn't create the space on the initial action, get it back to Embiid and follow the pass for another DHO. The same action in sequence was all they wanted because Maxey was nails as soon as he had the space to get the ball above his shoulders. He ended cold, missing a couple threes that would've given Embiid the triple-double. But, he was on an absolute heater for most of the fourth quarter. It got to a point where the play was quite literally just to space for Maxey and see if he can shake free for another step-back three.
Stars have heaters. The best of the best catch fire when the game hangs in the balance. "Fourth quarter Maxey" struck again.
- Three 30-point scorers. One guy with a double-double. Two guys flirting with triple-doubles. Everyone ate.
- If you were wondering how valuable Batum is to this team, the degree of difficulty the Sixers had getting the ball to Embiid was a really good example of that.
You could see the geometry playing out in Morris' head on the very first possession of the game. The Sixers opened in their usual Horns set, Morris acting as Batum and Embiid forcing his way down low for a deep touch. That's a pass Batum doesn't even need to think about. And yet, Morris simply couldn't let go of the ball.
The Sixers struggled mightily to get the ball to Embiid when he had clear advantages. And because they couldn't get the ball to him in the paint, Embiid was forced to come out higher to retrieve the rock. With Philadelphia unable to establish its best player in the paint with easy scores or get the Raptors into early foul trouble, the Sixers couldn't string together good possessions.
A byproduct of needing to start higher on the court was that Embiid also had to put the ball on the deck more to make his move. The more he dribbles, the more trouble he gets into. Toronto feasted on that, jarring the ball loose and getting out in transition for a number of easy scores.
- I thought Nurse had a particularly rough first half. He countered the athleticism and versatility in Toronto's starting five by inserting Morris, who was an obvious candidate for the Raptors to target on offense. He then doubled down on the lineup in the second quarter. He also gave Furkan Korkmaz some minutes over Jaden Springer, which seemed like a misallocation of resources for this particular matchup.
The thing about Springer not playing is that Nurse will always have the excuse that he's not experienced enough for a certain moment. It's valid in that it's literally true. But, you don't get experience without playing in real games. The part that makes it especially difficult to comprehend is that Springer has actually been relatively good in the minutes he's played outside of garbage time. Even if the retort is, "Well, we don't just want to throw him out there after not playing in a while", the only way to fix that is to play the kid.
Another Nurse thing - for a guy who is lauded for his creativity, the first half presented an awesome opportunity to experiment with some non-traditional pick-and-roll combinations. Harris and Maxey were both in rhythm. Embiid couldn't get anything going and was getting mauled to the tune of silent whistles every time he touched the ball. Instead of featuring the big guy in the action like you've done a million times, why not try sliding Embiid to the dunker's spot and letting Harris screen for Maxey? Just see what it does to Toronto's defensive processes. No downside.
The Sixers (20-8) will visit the Miami Heat (16-12) on Christmas Day. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on ESPN.
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