Sixers looking mighty special, more takeaways from win vs. Kings
It wasn’t looking good for the Sixers. Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris were struggling. De’Aaron Fox, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, appeared unstoppable. The red-hot Kings, winners of seven of their last eight, were red-hot from three.
But a dominant fourth quarter flipped that script as the Sixers took down the Kings, 119-111, at Golden 1 Center Tuesday night. The Sixers are now 14-0 with their starting lineup intact and 18-7 overall.
Here are a few takeaways from the win.
Fourth Quarter Dominance
Sacramento shot a ridiculous 11 of 20 (55 percent) from three in the first half. While shooting tends to balance out, the Sixers also weren’t very good defensively as they gave up 71 points. Fox led the way posting 23 points on 9 of 13. There are few guys that give Ben Simmons problems, but Fox and his elite quickness caused trouble for the potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
The second half was a much different story. The Kings went just 3 of 22 from beyond the arc while Fox went just 4 of 17 from the floor.
While the entire team stepped up its defensive effort, it was Matisse Thybulle that truly led the way. Doc Rivers admitted postgame that Thybulle was “almost better suited” to defend Fox than Simmons. Thybulle took over guarding Fox in the fourth quarter and Fox went just 3 of 13 from the floor in the decisive period. Thybulle is truly establishing himself as an indispensable defensive piece.
The combo of Thybulle and Shake Milton was excellent down the stretch. It was one of Milton’s finer defensive performances as he held Buddy Hield (1 of 5 in the fourth) in check while still getting his offense. If it wasn’t for an ankle injury he suffered late, Milton likely would’ve closed the game out – that’s how well he was playing.
Embiid’s efforts anchoring the defense can’t be discounted, either. He had a tough offensive night through three quarters but didn’t let that bleed over into his defense.
Fourth Quarter Tobias Harris; an EMVPiid performance
Harris hasn’t had many down nights this season. He had one as recently as last week in the loss to Portland, but for the most part, he’s played at a consistent, All-Star level all season. That’s why it was concerning that Harris had just 10 points on 4 of 10 from the floor through three quarters. Then the fourth happened.
Harris scored 12 of his 22 points in the final period on 4 of 5 from the field, including two huge threes. Harris is becoming a reliable scorer late in games. He’s not the ideal shot creator for those moments, but he’s so good at using his big frame to get to his spots on the floor. He’s been deadly in the midrange. If he gets a smaller defender on him, he just needs a little space going to his left and he’s almost automatic.
One of Harris’ threes came on an outstanding pass from Embiid. As mentioned, it was a struggle for Embiid through three quarters. He was beaten up, fronted, and double-teamed for most of the night. In the fourth, he found his rhythm scoring 10 points and finding Harris in the opposite corner out of a double team in the post.
Rivers said postgame that Embiid is going to be a “target” for other teams. He responded well to that Tuesday. On an “off night,” Embiid posted 25 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. Yeah, this guy is having a special season.
This Feels Different
Not only does this feel like a special season for Embiid, it feels like that for this Sixers team as a whole. At 18-7, they have the best record in the East. At 7-5 away from Wells Fargo Center, they also have the best road record in the conference. That is no small feat when you consider it took the Sixers 32 games to win their seventh game on the road last season.
This season just feels different. On Tuesday night, they didn’t play their best basketball through three quarters but were down just four. In the past, that would’ve felt like a loss for this team – especially on the road. But you almost expected them to dig deep and find a way to win, and that’s exactly what they did.
There’s still a long way to go, but all the ingredients for a special season are there: An MVP candidate, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, the potential to have three All-Stars, a top-five defense, and the ability to close games.
If they’re healthy and Daryl Morey perhaps makes a move or two on the margins, this will be a dangerous basketball team heading into the playoffs.