Takeaways From Sixers’ Comeback Win in Season Opener
Well, it certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Sixers got the job done with a strong fourth quarter in a 113-107 win over the Wizards Wednesday.
As we expected, there were plenty of growing pains in the season opener.
Here are four takeaways from the victory:
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Sixers’ new-look starting five struggled offensively. While there were early glimpses of Doc Rivers’ vision for his offense – ball movement, off-ball movement, playing with pace –the starting unit’s second- and third-quarter stints were brutal.
The Sixers saw a 13-point lead become a 12-point deficit after an anemic third period. They scored just 15 points, shooting 5 of 22 from the field and committing nine turnovers.
The good news is that Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry got their footing in time to score 40 points in the fourth while also coming up with a few key stops. The bad news is Danny Green played just 18 minutes and went 1 of 6. The even worse news is Tobias Harris had an extremely rough night, going 3 of 13 and missing all four of his attempts from three.
Rivers has mentioned the need for Harris to make quicker decisions and play downhill. Instead, we saw a player that still is struggling to find his place here and appears to be having a confidence crisis.
“He just missed shots,” Rivers said. “I thought he was hesitant. Even that last drive when he got free throws, I thought that should’ve been a dunk. We’ll watch the film, we’ll get him uncaged. He’ll be fine.”
Embiid takes over
After that listless third quarter, Rivers went to an interesting lineup in the fourth. He went with a unit that featured Embiid and four shooters – Curry, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Mike Scott. It opened things up for Embiid who poured in 15 of his 29 points in the period.
There’s often been talk about where the Sixers are going to go when they need a basket. Embiid gave an emphatic answer -- at least for one night. He fought through double and triple teams and took advantage whenever Washington didn’t send help.
“I don’t think anybody can stop me, especially with the mentality I have this year,” Embiid said.
That lineup in particular showcased what Daryl Morey had in mind this offseason when he acquired Green and Curry. Even on the basket that sealed the game, Simmons got a dunk off a two-man action with Embiid and Curry.
Shake Milton: Defensive stopper?
There’s plenty to say about Milton’s offensive night. He had 19 points off the bench and seemed to come through with timely buckets when the offense was stagnant. This is what we expected after Rivers hyped Milton up so much this offseason and after Milton himself had two impressive preseason games.
What most of us weren’t expecting was the defensive effort from Milton. The third-year guard was charged with defending Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. He held Westbrook (0 of 6) and Beal (3 of 7) in check.
Even his head coach was pleasantly surprised.
“Yes,” Rivers said when asked if Milton exceeded his expectations defensively. “He was so good offensively we needed to keep him on the floor. …
“One of the things we talked to him right before the season started is, ‘Listen, we’re going to lean on you offensively, but that doesn’t mean you get a pass on the other end.’ And tonight he showed that he wasn’t taking a pass. I thought he was terrific.”
Milton attributed part of the success he had on Wednesday to the muscle he added this offseason.
“A lot of being a good defender is being strong,” Milton said, “and being able to keep guys from getting where they want to get to and not making things easy, and I feel like that’s translating.”
Bench to the rescue
Milton wasn’t the only member of the bench to contribute. Really, it was the bench that built the Sixers biggest lead and that looked like the more in sync unit.
Again, rookie Tyrese Maxey got the early nod over Matisse Thybulle – and Maxey was impressive in his NBA debut. The 20-year-old looked like he belonged with six points and two assists in 11 minutes.
“Matisse missed some time in camp [with an ankle sprain],” Rivers said. “The young fella [Maxey] is playing great. I thought in the first half he was terrific, but Matisse will get his chance, and I tell him that every day.”
Maxey and veteran Dwight Howard (10 rebounds) provided a spark of energy when the Sixers desperately needed it.
Along with Furkan Korkmaz (11 points) and Mike Scott, it seems like Rivers has something with his bench unit. The Sixers were 26th in points from the bench last season. It feels like that won’t be the case this year.