Sixers-Warriors observations: Defending champs pull away in 2nd half

Sixers-Warriors observations: Defending champs pull away in 2nd half


OAKLAND, Calif.  — The first two quarters were a game of back-and-forth. The third was a Warriors’ takeover.

The Sixers and Warriors swapped leads 16 times in the first half before the Warriors, well, played like the Warriors out of halftime to claim a 135-114 victory Saturday night.

• The Sixers trailed by only four points after one in spite of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons uncharacteristically going scoreless. The Warriors committed eight turnovers in the first quarter, nearly half of their season average 16.6 per game. Those early errors led to nine of the Sixers’ 28 points in the quarter.

• Kevin Durant (29 points) was just getting started, though. Even as the Sixers outscored the Warriors in the second quarter, Durant dropped 20 points in the first half to give his team a 65-64 lead. Durant was supported offensively by Steph Curry (22 points) and Klay Thompson (23 points), while the Sixers were right in the game even though no player had reached double digits. The Warriors outscored the Sixers 15-5 at the line in the first half.

• The Warriors ended the second quarter on a 6-0 run and carried that momentum into the third. They broke a 74-74 tie with 7:29 remaining to go on a 20-5 burst over the next five minutes.

• Golden State outscored the Sixers by a dramatic 15 points in the third while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Simmons (0 for 3 from the field) went scoreless again in the quarter. Unlike in the first, the Warriors didn’t give up any points off turnovers; the Sixers committed seven.

• The Sixers' deficit was too deep to overcome in the fourth. They trailed by 26 points at one point with Curry and Durant on the bench the entire final quarter.

• Simmons garnered high praise from Warriors head coach Steve Kerr before the game. “This guy’s a bulldozer, like LeBron (James), Magic (Johnson), just powerful and springy. He’s got one of those sort of strange games because he’s not a shooter. He finds angles. He finds different ways to score the ball that are unorthodox and difficult to guard.”

Still, Simmons struggled offensively in his first game against the Warriors, who focused on limiting him in transition. He went scoreless in two quarters and shot 6 for 17 from the field on the night. Simmons finished with 13 points, eight assists, five rebounds and four turnovers.

• Embiid’s declaration to Draymond Green that he was “going to kick his a--” didn’t happen. Embiid shot 4 for 11 from the field for 12 points, his second-lowest total of the season. He grabbed seven rebounds and committed as many turnovers.

• The Warriors' top scorers were dangerous, as usual. In addition to 29 from Durant, Curry and Thompson combined for 55 points. Draymond Green neared a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. The team shot 58.2 percent from the field and 96.2 percent from the line overall.

• The Warriors and Sixers entered the game first and second in assists with 31.0 and 25.9, respectively. The Sixers actually had the edge on the Warriors, 30 assists to 28. Simmons, T.J. McConnell (7) and JJ Redick (6) combined for 21.

• Richaun Holmes got the backup center minutes (23), which wasn’t surprising given the Warriors’ uptempo system. Brett Brown has praised Holmes for his “bounce” on the court. Holmes fouled out with 1:45 left in the game. Brown subbed in Justin Anderson instead of turning to Amir Johnson, who had been sitting the entire night.

• Injury updates: Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) was on the bench with the Sixers. He broke a sweat in pregame shooting drills (not long-range jumpers) … I saw Nik Stauskas’ sprained right ankle before the game. Yikes. He suffered the injury after stepping on a teammate’s foot during practice Friday. Stauskas has to wait for the swelling to subside … Jerryd Bayless remains out with a left wrist contusion … Former Sixer Andre Iguodala sat out for rest.

• Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie was in attendance. Hinkie also was at last season’s Sixers game in Oakland.

• Oracle Arena gets loud when one of the Splash Brothers nails a three. Klay Thompson brought the crowd to their feet and they stood for the Sixers’ final possession of the first half.

• The Warriors presented James Michael McAdoo with his 2017 championship ring prior to the game. McAdoo played his first three seasons for the team and was part of two title-winning teams. The Sixers signed McAdoo to a two-way contract this offseason. He is averaging 7.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his first four games with the Delaware 87ers.

“I’m thrilled that he’s here,” Kerr said. 

Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

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Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

Joel Embiid doesn't want the Sixers to end up like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Not the 2017-18 Thunder, but OKC circa 2011-12.

Embiid is convinced that at some point soon, the media will turn on him and the Sixers. 

Speaking specifically about the core trio of Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, Embiid told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:

"I think with everything, the main thing we have to do is just stay together because I feel like there's going to be some type of situation where people say who is better between us three. And that's how it splits."

Shelburne, who wrote a long and interesting feature on Embiid this week, told more of the story Wednesday on Zach Lowe's podcast.

She recalled talking to Embiid about his social media presence at All-Star weekend in 2016, when he told her, "I'm just trying to have as much fun before everybody turns on me."

Shelburne pointed out the uniqueness of a then-22-year-old — who had been in the United States just seven years — understanding the "fame cycle" well enough to know that things could soon turn.

"I saw what happened in Oklahoma City with (James) Harden, (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant and I don't want that to happen here," Shelburne recalled Embiid saying.

If the Sixers get to that point ... it'll probably be a good problem to have. Just prior to the 2012-13 season, the Thunder traded Harden to Houston in one of the worst trades in recent NBA history. OKC did it for several reasons — salary cap, personalities, only having enough shots to go around. And really, who knows if Harden would have been able to grow into this superstar had he been sharing the ball the next handful of seasons with two other alphas?

Embiid and Fultz have already grown close, and it's important to Embiid that the three young Sixers don't get caught up in the "Who takes the last shot?" conversations or "Who should be the All-Star" questions that inevitably come up. 

Luckily for the Sixers, Embiid, Simmons and Fultz have different enough skill sets that they should be able to coexist. It's not directly analogous to the OKC situation where all three players needed the ball in their hands. The Sixers were built this way for a reason. 

Right now, it's clear Embiid is the alpha of the group. He's the go-to guy in crunch time and again has a top-five usage rate. When Simmons eventually becomes more comfortable with his jump shot and Fultz finally makes his impact on the court, we'll see whether or not Embiid was prescient.

Joel Embiid puts back pain aside to get Sixers 'needed' OT win

Joel Embiid puts back pain aside to get Sixers 'needed' OT win


MINNEAPOLIS — Joel Embiid's presence was arguably the biggest factor in the Sixers’ snapping their four-game losing streak on Tuesday.

The center was especially key in the final two minutes of regulation and in overtime, as the 76ers defeated the Timberwolves, 118-112 (see observations).

Embiid assisted on Ben Simmons' go-ahead dunk with 1:17 remaining in regulation and hit the game-tying free throws with 14 seconds remaining. He then scored seven points in overtime, including a three-pointer that gave the Sixers a seven-point lead with 1:39 to go.

Embiid finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes (see highlights), despite missing the two previous games in Cleveland and New Orleans with back tightness.

"I would not have expected him to play as well as he played or as many minutes as he played," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "… He obviously was massive."

Embiid said he didn't feel 100 percent going into Tuesday's game and added that his back was really tight before the game against New Orleans. He said he didn't have the lift during Tuesday's game that he typically does but that he knew his back would get tight while sitting.

"We needed this," he said of the win.

Embiid’s being in the lineup changes how the 76ers' offense operates, rookie Ben Simmons said. Embiid changes the team's spacing but also gives the Sixers an offensive presence in the post.

"You have to find your spot, but it's a big help also," Simmons said.

Simmons finished with just seven points, as Timberwolves wings Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins guarded him most of the night. However, the rookie was key down the stretch as he scored all seven points in the final 6:17 of regulation and overtime (see highlights).

Brown noted how Simmons ended up with a rating of plus-3 despite the below-average point total. He said he loved that Simmons and Embiid were able to connect for big plays late.

"It wasn't statistically one of his best games," Brown said of Simmons, " … [but] for him to help us get that win on the road, that's a good night."

The win also snapped the Sixers’ recent run of fourth-quarter letdowns. The 76ers trailed by nine with six minutes remaining Tuesday, but they went on a 14-4 run to take a 91-90 lead with 2:17 remaining in regulation. Richaun Holmes completed the run with a three-point play.

Brown said he thought JJ Redick, Simmons and Embiid executed well during that stretch and made note of a three-pointer Redick hit to start the run. 

"To me, that was the tipping point when things started to run," Brown said of the shot.

The coach added that the Sixers will need to cut down on turnovers in order to achieve their goals. The Sixers had a season-high 24, though none came in overtime.