The Sixers made 23 threes to set a new franchise record against the Pacers, winning a 131-122 shootout where defense was optional. Joel Embiid (45 points) and Tyrese Maxey (30 points) led Philly.
Here’s what I saw.
The Sixers, notorious for their reluctance to shoot threes, even when fully open, somehow managed to break the franchise record for made threes in a single game. Two guys led the attack for Philadelphia on that front – Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey.
Last season, both guys would have been wrinkled off for not letting it go anymore and I’m not sure you should go that far back at all. One of the big problems this team had in the first half of the year was simply taking advantage of the open looks that were created for them, and veteran players had to specifically encourage Maxey to trust his work and let the ball go.
No one needs to get in his ear anymore. Every type of three you could imagine a player taking, Maxey now has in the bag. He hits you with a stepback three while turning the corner in a dribbling handoff, a side-step three while isolated against a defender, and catch-and-shoot attempts from across the floor. Each of these shots is important for a different reason. Maxey’s ability to give distance as an on-ball guy is enormous for his ability to anchor a foul from the perimeter, and his comfort as a catch-and-shoot player allows him to be a key wheel in an offensive on high level, even on ball possessions where he does not touch the ball.
His confidence is just so far ahead where it was last year that it is sometimes almost hard to believe. Maxey, who pulled up to heat check-threes in the transition, would have seemed like someone else had possessed his body last season, but that’s appropriate given the growth we’ve seen from him this year. The time he spent leading the team and living through his mistakes has paid off tremendously for the Sixers, who have a second-year player capable of stealing everyone else’s thunder with dazzling scoring runs.
One could almost argue that Maxey’s second half was more impressive than the first for very different reasons. Instead of getting out of the break and just throwing everything he wanted, Maxey instead played team-friendly ball, set up quality shots for his teammates and chose his places as the goal scorer. What an impressive child.
• Speaking of stolen thunder, Maxey’s outburst in the first half was almost enough to distract from the fact that Joel Embiid put up 27 points against a Pacers team where he had the opportunity to slow him down. Much has been made of his free-kick attempts and their significance for his scoring result lately, most of these claims coming from opponents and opposing fans who have been on the wrong side of an Embiid beatdown. But Embiid proved an important point with the work he did against Indiana – do not pollute him at your own risk, because he can just go nuclear weapons on you.
Before he started as a goal scorer, I thought Embiid was almost as good as a pass player who felt and read pressure intuitively in the post. There was a little wasted movement from the big man inside the arch. The second a Pacers player tried to commit to an Embiid double, the ball was out of his hands and often already on the other side of the floor, leading to a huge ton of open shots. It’s hard to tear the Sixers apart so as not to shoot better during a match where they burned the nets down, but he deserved at least a few more assists than he ended up with.
So deep into the season, working on the small details is more important than a box score line and (in some cases) even the end result on some nights. Learning from mistakes and preparing to be your best self in the playoffs is all you want to achieve in these games, except avoid injuries. A good example for Joel Embiid – posting too far from the basket has at times been a problem for him recently, especially when Embiid is in pick-and-roll with Harden and the opponent changes it.
On a ball possession in the first half, Embiid did an excellent job of getting around that problem. With TJ McConnell on the hip in the early attack, Embiid received the ball and was not happy with his positioning. Instead of plowing through McConnell, Embiid quickly found Maxey on the edge before sealing the much smaller McConnell for a deep catch, scoring with ease before the Pacers could even think of competing.
It seems that Embiid has lost every grip he had on the MVP award over the last month, with a series of high-profile losses that have drawn his case for the league’s best individual honor. Even if that is the case, he can still go out with a bang this season, and a chance to win the scoring title as a center does not come often. Sometimes he manages to make the difficult things look impossibly easy, as such:
Embiid was so in the zone that it looked like he was outright joking with Indiana coaching staff and former Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce and telling them what he thought of their defense. This was an absolute beatdown from the big man.
• It feels unfair to Tobias Harris that he is so low in Tuesday’s summary because he was a significant part of the Sixers, who started as an offensive against Indy, and he was one of the few guys who offered any effort on the defensive end to start this game. No one really cared about the latter, considering how incredible they looked on the offensive in this game, but I promise I’m worried, Tobias.
The three-point aggression is starting to become commonplace for Harris, and it needs to be a constant for Philadelphia if they are to get where they want to go by the end of this season. There are nuances of the player Harris was once in LA, where Harris confidently steps into transition threes over the break in a way he has rarely done since joining the Sixers.
There were some quietly impressive moments for Harris as a passing player in this game, where Harris used a fake pass to draw attention to the paint and create an open corner three on the other side of the floor. His fears as an entry-passer may be a big issue for Harris, but he’s been a decent secondary playmaker for the Sixers lately.
• The Sixers broke the franchise record for threes in a game Thursday night, which one could argue is the only reason they won while playing such a terrible defense. And while he mostly stayed in the background as a goal scorer, this game featured some absolutely beautiful passes from James Harden, who chose the Pacers apart as a passing player in this game to an almost shocking degree.
Indiana could not figure out where to go or what to do to prevent him from creating an open appearance for anyone. When they squeezed him too hard, he threw high passes over the top. When they caught the Harden high, he quickly found the open man to keep the offense running. In the transition, the Pacers were caught in no-man’s land, allowing Harden to find lob opportunities and kick-out passes that got the Sixers open layups and threes.
And yes, pick-and-roll with Embiid continues to be a cheat code, even when the Sixers don’t get a shot from one of the guys in the play. The Pacers were so concerned that Embiid and Harden came down the middle of the pitch that they gave Danny Green a pass on the edge of a game in the first half, giving him one of the most open shots he has likely had in his career. .
The bad one
• That Matisse Thybulle was unable to make a layup on a night when the Sixers threatened the franchise record for made threes is an appropriate comment on the state of his attack.
• The Harden must score more when leading the bench units, otherwise he should not lead them.
• I’m not sure there’s a word in the dictionary to describe how bad the Sixers were in defense in this game. One could not point to a single thing they did well in a quarter of an hour length, let alone an entire match, and that was a problem for every player on the list, not individual guys who could be put in focus or selected on.
Usually you can point out weak links in the defense and start with their problems while trying to explain what went wrong. But the Sixers would have needed someone to try the defense to distinguish between their poor defenders and those supposed to tilt the floor in their favor. Embiid waddled around the paint with his arms next to it. Thybulle could have made a play or two with his play, but blinded me to his lost layups, so I suppose I could have missed something good he did. It only got worse from there because the rest of the group added that “do not give a damn” mentality with their own bad bases of basics and tools, leading to an avalanche of easy looks for Indiana.
Although their first-shot defense had been good, the biggest problem was Philadelphia’s abhorrent approach to defensive rebounding, where they may have delivered the worst single effort in Philadelphia’s basketball history. An understaffed and not particularly large Pacers team absolutely pursued them on the glass, and once again this was a team effort. I love George Niang’s approach to offensive, but he’s just as carefree on the glass as he is about to let shots fly from the depths and stare at the ball coming out of the edge, as if fate will be enough to serve the board. And it’s a problem that plagues this team, with very few guys on the list who possess the desire to either exclude a man or actually get a rebound.
This should have been a triumphant victory where the Sixers starters had to hang out and relax for pretty much the entire fourth quarter. They could not because
• DeAndre Jordan STINKER. He deserves no further analysis.
I know that I constantly emphasize that the backup center is / should be a small part of how we evaluate the work that Doc Rivers does. But when it’s the reaction fans give when one of their players is thrown out of a match, maybe someone in the organization should notice it.
– Philly Sports Sufferer (SCARY HOURS) (@mccrystal_alex) April 6, 2022
Come on man. Now that’s enough. That Jordan was thrown out legally could have saved the Sixers from losing the game. If Rivers cannot recover, the front office must step in. It’s out of hand.
• Lance Stephenson stops to flex after hitting Joel Embiid with his off-arm and was called offensively is perhaps the most Lance Stephenson moment ever. Sick and deaf.
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