OAKLAND, Calif. — The Warriors didn’t just limit one of the Sixers' top offensive options. They limited the top two.
Joel Embiid (12) and Ben Simmons (13) combined for 25 points Saturday night against the Warriors in the Sixers' 135-114 loss at Oracle Arena (see observations). Both scored their second-lowest totals of the season, dating back to the second game against the Celtics.
“I give Golden State credit on how they guarded those two players,” Brett Brown said. “Our two best players.”
The Warriors cracked down on defense early in the game. They held Embiid and Simmons scoreless in the first quarter, shooting a combined 0 for 6 from the field. Just as the Warriors had to game plan against this duo for the first time, Embiid and Simmons were getting their first look at the defending world champions.
Brown noticed Draymond Green sagging off Simmons, in a way challenging him to shoot from mid-range. Simmons’ four missed shots in the first quarter were from seven, 12, 13 and 14 feet from the basket. He shot 6 for 17 from the field in 29 minutes.
“In the first quarter, I was just trying to figure out how they were playing me,” said Simmons, who had 13 points, five rebounds and eight assists. “They were playing back. I was trying to see what they would do with their picks and they played me well.”
Before the game head coach, Steve Kerr said they were focused on keeping Simmons out of transition and making him score over the top instead of driving the basket, where he has been effective all season. Simmons felt that strategy work.
"I think they did a good job of that, loading the paint,” Simmons said. “I think I could have been more aggressive and attacked more.”
The Warriors had a different approach for Embiid. They swarmed him with double teams, which have been leading to turnovers. Embiid had only one turnover in the first quarter (a bad pass) but ended up with seven on the night. He shot 4 for 11 from the field and pulled down seven rebounds over 25 minutes.
“They double-teamed me a lot, from Ben’s man every time I sprung baseline so it kind of threw me off,” Embiid said. “They were kind of mixing it up.”
The Sixers have been able to count on Embiid and Simmons to drive their offense. They still are enigmas to many teams who are challenged with strategizing for these versatile players without seeing them live. Brown expects their opponents to make adjustments.
“I think over time, soon, the league will settle in and determine sort of a template, a blueprint of how they think,” Brown said. “Everybody’s still learning about Ben and Joel. We’ll react. We’ll move forward and try to figure stuff out better to help them, to help the team.”
Their teammates know they have to step up when Embiid or Simmons are having an off-night on the scoreboard.
"We've got to make it easier for them because you know how teams are going to guard them," Robert Covington said. "We've got to put them in better situations."