Masterful two-way game from Embiid powers Sixers to victory over Hawks: Likes and dislikes
Thye Sixers (13-7) hosted the Atlanta Hawks (9-11) on Friday. Philadelphia wanted to build on Wednesday's win over the Wizards. Atlanta wanted to rebound from Wednesday's loss to the Nets. Joel Embiid went for 38 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks to help the Sixers fend off the short-handed Hawks, 125-114.
Before we get to the game, some notes.
The Hawks were without the services of Trae Young, who has an illness.
Jalen Johnson has a fractured left distal radius and was out.
Kobe Bufkin has a fractured left thumb and was not available. Mouhamed Gueye missed the game with a stress fracture in his right low back.
Miles Norris and Seth Lundy are on two-way assignments with Atlanta's G League affiliate and were not available.
Quin Snyder started Dejounte Murray, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, De'Andre Hunter, and Clint Capela.
The Sixers were without the services of Terquavion Smith, Javonte Smart, and Ricky Council IV, who are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Nico Batum, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
- There hasn't been much on the creative side for the Sixers' offense of late, mostly because their best offense over the last few games has been "get the ball to Joel Embiid and get the hell out of the way". But, the creativity was there early on Friday, even if it was a bit subtle.
Maxey wasn't the designated ball-handler up the floor on every possession. That isn't necessarily unusual, though. The creative part was players who usually don't bring the ball up out off the inbound pass - such as Embiid - were suddenly handling the rock in dead-ball situations. In other words, the halfcourt offense wasn't being initiated through the point guard.
The Sixers ran a series in which Maxey sprinted into a handoff with whomever brought the ball up, immediately turning the corner to get to the paint. Those actions didn't amount to anything more than DHOs. But, usually, those sprinting DHOs come as secondary actions if the first look doesn't materialize. Furthermore, there's usually an option to fake the handoff depending on what the defense shows, using Maxey as a decoy to then drive to the paint and make something happen.
That isn't to say that there was no option on what the Sixers were running. Rather, they chose to spam the same choice over and over again. The Sixers made it clear that they wanted to leverage Maxey's speed out of the handoff. It didn't generate much scoring for Maxey, but it was a slight tweak. So, score one for being unpredictable, I suppose.
- There were absolutely moments in the first half in which Embiid left meat on the bone on defense. But, he was locked in on offense. He didn't just do the fun part, either. Embiid was there to clean up his and his teammates' misses.
He fought to be the last one standing when the ball was tipped around in the air, making sure to secure the rock. Other times, Embiid swooped in to retrieve the ball as it came down, sensing that a bit of effort would be enough to keep the play alive because he could overwhelm whatever was in his way, if there were any Hawks in the vicinity to begin with.
If anyone else on the team had the burning passion to sustain a similar level of effort, this game would've been a laugher at halftime.
- Has been a rough stretch for Harris, and the first half was absolutely no better. I lost count of the number of rebounds that he didn't get his hands on despite the ball landing near him. Those miscues gifted Atlanta a number of additional plays when their first attempts were off the mark.
Harris committed an obvious offensive foul on the dribble because he was not subtle about trying to create space. The only triple he attempted in the first half missed quite short, and he overthought a number of touches that should've been instinctive quick moves.
When he gets into a rut, the floor is below the basement. This doesn't look anything like the Harris that the Sixers had for the first stretch of the season.
- The Sixers seemed to have a solid grip on this game until about midway through the second quarter. The shot selection was questionable, the Sixers barely working the ball around before the shot clock became the enemy. They stood themselves up, forcing awkward jumpers that clanked off the rim because they were just trying to get anything to beat the clock.
Worse than that, the defense was horrendous, once again. I thought Philadelphia actually opened the game with some spirited defensive effort and awareness. They did a very nice job of blowing up Atlanta possessions with active hands in the passing lanes and driving lanes. It wasn't about shutdown one-on-one defense. Rather, it was about being sure that they were in the right places at the right times. Being in the right possession on defense isn't half the battle, but it's a big part of it.
All of that went away around the same time that the Sixers' offense fell apart. They over-rotated in transition, allowing Bogdanovic and other shooters to get practice-level looks from deep. They over-pinched on driving lanes instead of trusting Embiid to protect the back side, pulling in too far to recover when the ball swung to Bey.
There are inevitably going to be physical disadvantages that present opposing offenses with weaknesses to exploit. Teams will try to pick on Maxey's size, Batum's agility at his age, and Robert Covington's lack of athleticism. What is plaguing Philadelphia right now is mental miscues. Their communication is bad, instincts and decision-making are lacking, and effort is inconsistent. The defense, as a whole, simply isn't good enough right now. They're just fortunate they haven't played a really good team at full health in a while.
- You know who would help the defense quite a bit right now? Covington and Jaden Springer. Why not give those guys some minutes? I get that Nurse has to make sure the deepest part of his bench doesn't rot as it sits for months at a time. But, at some point you have to demand that your professional basketball players be ready at any moment even if there's no promise of minutes.
- Embiid appeared to tweak his knee after planting hard on a drive late in the fourth quarter. He was down for a moment, but played the rest of the game with a very visible limp. We'll see if that's a storyline that develops in the coming days.
The Sixers (14-7) will host the Washington Wizards (3-17) on Monday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.