Ugly start dooms Sixers in loss to Timberwolves: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (10-4) visited the Minnesota Timberwolves (10-3) on Wednesday. Philadelphia wanted to rebound from Tuesday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Minnesota wanted to push its winning streak to three games. An ugly start doomed the Embiid-less Sixers on the second night of a back-to-back, 112-99.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who has a sore left hip.
Kelly Oubre Jr. is recovering from a fractured rib and was out.
Terquavion Smtih, 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 Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Nico Batum, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Morris Sr.
The Timberwolves were without the services of Jaden McDaniels, who has a sprained right ankle.
Jordan McLaughlin has a sprained MCL in his right knee and was not available.
Jaylen Clark is recovering from a ruptured right achilles and was out.
Chris Finch started Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert.
- Just like on Tuesday, Philadelphia got off to a bad start and spent the rest of the game trying to catch up. Except, in this game, two different Sixers went on individual runs to give the Sixers hope. First was Harris, who created 15 points in the second quarter with his own scores or passes to help bring the separation to just two possessions with six minutes and change to go before halftime. He leveraged the space Minnesota granted him in the midrange, converting a couple of midrange jumpers and getting to the rim for layups or fouls.
- Second was Morris, who had a very rough start of this game on both ends but came out of halftime with some fire. He scored 11 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter, nailing a pair of threes and a midrange jumper, and getting to the line for a three-point play after attacking a Gobert close-out. He helped Philadelphia cut the deficit to five points early in the third quarter.
- It was a pretty strong bet that the Sixers would come out with some handsiness after Nurse criticized their physicality in Tuesday's loss to Cleveland. Once you knew Embiid was going to be out, it was a requirement rather than an option that Philadelphia get physical on defense.
The Sixers were probably always going to battle foul trouble in this game because of how aggressive Edwards is and the size mismatches posed by Towns and Gobert. Add in the fact that this officiating crew was led by Ed Malloy, and it was a pretty good guess that bad foul calls would be mixed in with legitimate offenses.
Having said that, the Sixers were not smart with their hands. Batum was one of the guys to pick up two early fouls, the second coming when he got his arm locked up with Towns on a rebound the Timberwolves big man had already secured. Paul Reed picked up a couple committing intentional but soft contact at the rim to give Minnesota easy three-point plays. Morris did the same.
This was a game in which Philadelphia could not afford to waste fouls from its big-man depth. They did so on weak contact and low-odds plays.
- If Philadelphia was going to have any chance of winning this one without Embiid, the Sixers were going to need Maxey to be a hero. I can understand him being low on fuel after the effort he put forth on the first leg of this back-to-back. But, I do not understand his shot selection in this game.
Just because you can get to the rim doesn't mean it's a pot of gold. Against this team, just getting to the basket doesn't guarantee anything. Maxey made a couple of difficult ones inside, but he fell in love with getting downhill when he should've been more aggressive from the perimeter.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. Maxey's default level of aggression is not good enough. He took 19 shots in this game. He got to the free throw line just four times. To be totally fair to him, that free throw number is not an accurate representation of how aggressive he was as a driver. He does not get nearly enough foul calls in general, and this game was no different.
But, there are way too many possessions in which he passes out of an action. In any game or lineup that does not feature Embiid, he will always be passing to players who aren't as dynamic as he is. It's not like Minnesota was denying him the ball or eating up any space he had. They showed two on the ball a number of times, but they weren't treating him like a guard on a heater. Just because you're taking a deep or contested shot does not mean you shouldn't take the shot, and that's the way Maxey qualified his shot selection in this game.
I am not asking him not to pass the ball. I'm asking him to establish himself early so that his gravity creates opportunities for teammates.
- The Sixers made several runs in this game. They deserve credit for not just rolling over when they were down nearly 20 points in the first quarter. But, if they were going to make a comeback and give themselves a chance, they needed smarter plays on offense from their veterans.
Patrick Beverley is far too experienced to be telegraphing cross-court passes. Harris has been around the block too many times to leave his feet before he knows where he's going to pass the ball. Some really sloppy mistakes took possessions away from the Sixers and gave more chances to the Timberwolves.
- How Nurse hasn't given Jaden Springer more minutes the last two nights is beyond me. The only way he's going to learn how to consistently hold his own against the best offensive players is by going up against the best offensive players. If not on the second night of a daunting back-to-back, then when?
- That Mo Bamba couldn't get any minutes until garbage time despite Embiid being out and every possible option at center being in foul trouble is about as bad a sign as there is. He might always have a job in the league, but I don't know if he's ever going to be in a rotation for a team with any meaningful goals.
The Sixers (10-5) will visit the Oklahoma City Thunder (10-4) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m., Eastern time. You can watch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
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Gallery Credit: Josh Hennig/Townsquare Media