Embiid, Maxey dismantle Nets as Sixers re-new winning streak: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (9-3) visited the Brooklyn Nets (6-6) on Sunday. Philadelphia wanted to build on Friday's win over the Hawks. Brooklyn wanted to rebound from Thursday's loss to the Heat. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey combined for 57 points, 19 assists, and just two turnovers to lead the Sixers to victory, 121-99.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Sixers were without the services of Kelly Oubre Jr., who has a fractured rib.
Terquavion 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, Nicolas Batum, Tobias Harris, and Embiid.
The Nets were without Cam Thomas, who has a sprained left ankle.
Dennis Smith Jr. missed the game with a lower back sprain. Ben Simmons was out with a nerve impingement in his lower left back.
Dariq Whitehead and Noah Clowney are on assignments with Brooklyn's G-League affiliate and were not available. Jalen Wilson, Keon Johnson, and Armoni Brooks are on two-way G-League assignments and were out.
Jacque Vaughn started Spencer Dinwiddie, Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Nic Claxton.
- It was a clunky start for both teams, as is often the case for these afternoon tip-offs. But, you couldn't say the Sixers came out asleep or lazy on offense. Their energy was quite productive even if it didn't always result in a bucket.
Philadelphia made sure to extend plays to the second side of the floor, using all of the space available to them to cut, screen, and relocate. They made Brooklyn stay on their toes, refusing to let them rest on defense by confining actions to one side of the floor.
That isn't to say that there's anything wrong with empty-side actions, such as the pick-and-roll between Maxey and Embiid that has been a boon to an easy two points time and time again this season. But, a truly healthy offense uses movement and actions on both sides of the floor. At the end of the day, offenses want to score against an unset defense. The more movement you have, the less set a defense can be.
- As is usually the case with stars, engagement on offense feeds engagement on defense. The movement and action aided Embiid to a fast start on offense, and you could see his focus on defense was elevated early. But, engagement on defense can be a thankless job because it's not always easy to quantify or prove. Sometimes, it's just about not falling for tricks.
Take what Brooklyn did in the first quarter as an example of that. The Nets ran a bunch of Spain pick-and-roll early in this game, hoping for a catch-and-shoot three for the back-screener or an assist to the ball-screener for an easy dunk because the Sixers botched the coverage.
Embiid allowed nothing. He didn't have to do anything notable, which is why those moments that illustrate attentive defense often fly under the radar. He saw what Brooklyn wanted to do and refused to fall for it, instead simply retreating to the basket to shut down the roller. Seeing their play blown up, the Nets resorted to a catch-and-shoot three from Johnson. Not a bad shot at all; he's a very good player. But, not the look the play was designed for. So, a good action ended in a thud against the rim because Embiid blew up the play by returning to home position instead of lifting to engage the coverage.
- The way Maxey probed the floor out of the pick-and-roll was a refreshing step in the right direction for his ball-handling game. Clearing a screen and retreating is something Maxey does often against the best defenses. That is, he's participating in the action, but not actually putting any pressure on the paint. So, it's not consistently productive.
If you want to say that the Nets weren't exactly tight in their pick-and-roll coverage, that's fine. You're right. But, I thought Maxey made a real effort to nibble at the spaces they afforded him. He teased Brooklyn's defense all game long, stringing out the coverage by snaking the screen and biting at the paint. He did a great job of slowing up in the action, trying to get a feel for where defenders were by testing whether someone would bump him from behind as he probed.
No. 0 had Nets running into his back and hip all game, allowing the sense of touch to help dictate his next decision. Now, let's see him poke and prod when defenses are tighter in their coverages.
- It wasn't the prettiest first half of shooting by Maxey, but he really made up for it with his playmaking. Philadelphia stayed in front at the break because of Embiid, first and foremost. But, also because Maxey did a masterful job of distributing the ball. He didn't boost his assist numbers just by feeding Embiid in the two-man game. He looked for teammates all over the floor, getting downhill and immediately applying pressure on the rim or probing in hopes of punishing a defender who mis-stepped in help.
Maxey's vision for everyone - not just Embiid - supplied the scoring that no. 0 couldn't, himself, in the first half.
- A quick comment on Maxey's scoring - he came alive in the second half largely because of three-point shooting. Nurse should show him this game on film every time he thinks Maxey is getting shy. They're a different team - and he's a different player - when Maxey lets it fly the way he did in the second half. At least eight attempts per game, please.
- An absolute flamethrower game from Melton. He responded to a frigid start to the season with a raging fire from deep over the last handful of games. The next time the Nets and Sixers play, it would behoove Brooklyn's transition defense if they just didn't pass in Melton's direction when they're on offense. The way he picked off every pass in his vicinity, the Eagles might be able to use him at corner against Kansas City on Monday.
- I thought Brooklyn's length bothered Maxey in the first quarter. It looked like he was just shooting for the sky instead of actually having a feel for the ball in his hands. He missed an awkward floater short and was way off on a couple of threes in the first frame - characterizations you don't typically see from him.
- Embiid had no issue devouring Claxton in single coverage. It was when the Nets sent a helper down low that he had some trouble. Embiid only committed one turnover in the game, and it came in the second half. So, if you trust the score-keeper, those extra hands only affected Embiid on shots. If Embiid is going to gather instead of going up quickly when he catches down low, he has to make himself wider and poke his butt out to fend off defenders on his back. If you go up straight after gathering, you're going to get disrupted from behind.
- The first hold-your-breath moment of the season for Embiid happened 13 games in. Johnson tumbled on a drive to the basket, and landed on Embiid's leg. The big guy didn't see it coming, so he wasn't braced for it. Embiid yelled in pain and fell to the floor, massaging the back of his knee. He eventually got up, and played through the rest of the third quarter. It looked like he declined a check from the team's Head Athletic Trainer during a stoppage late in the third quarter, so seems OK. I guess we'll see on the team's next injury report.
The Sixers (10-3) will host the Cleveland Cavaliers (6-6) on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Eastern time. You can watch the game on TNT.
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