The New York Knicks have twice had double-digits leads in the second half over the Sixers this season. On the surface, that might be a concerning fact.
Yet the Sixers have twice come back to beat the lowly 4-15 Knicks. Down by as many as 16 in the second quarter Friday night, they shrugged off a poor first half and earned a 101-95 win at Madison Square Garden.
The Sixers, now 13-6, were very shorthanded, without Al Horford (rest), Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) and Kyle O’Quinn (left calf strain).
They’ll play the Pacers on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center ( 7 p.m./NBCSP).
Here are observations from the win:
The Sixers’ offense was clunky in the first half, scoring a season-low 39 points, and it didn’t help that they missed a bunch of open looks and hit just 2 for 18 shots from three-point range. Their collective frustration culminated in a technical foul on Brett Brown late in the second quarter. Ben Simmons also was T’d up in the third.
Brown has been consistent in his view that he’s not satisfied with his team’s offense, and that its evolution will take time — at the moment, he’s tinkering and searching for solutions with an unorthodox, massive team who tends to look bad when they don’t knock down threes.
He ran a couple of snug pick-and-rolls between Simmons and Joel Embiid in the second quarter, an action the Sixers showed occasionally last season, too. The first produced an and-one for Embiid. With Simmons still not attempting threes or being regularly stationed off the ball in the corner, it’s at least a way for the Sixers to have two men down low simultaneously with a result besides just congested spacing.
Simmons and Embiid’s winning plays
Both Simmons and Embiid were a level or two below their best in New York, but both made winning plays.
Simmons, as he did during the Sixers’ win over the Knicks last Wednesday, picked up his defensive intensity after the Sixers fell behind and was strong on that end in the second half.
Steal.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 30, 2019
His steal of an inbounds pass intended for RJ Barrett and slam dunk with a little over a minute left gave the Sixers a seven-point edge.
For the game, Simmons had 15 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
Embiid never found a true groove offensively, but he still managed 27 points on 7 for 19 shooting, 17 rebounds and three blocks, including an impressive chase down rejection on Julius Randle with 3:39 to go.
A JOJO NONO.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 30, 2019
Sixers lead, 84-83. pic.twitter.com/QMHrglaM4H
He went right into Mitchell Robinson’s chest with 2:33 left, drawing the sixth foul on the Knicks’ center and converting an and-one to give the Sixers a 90-87 lead and snap a scoring drought of over four minutes.
The Sixers started Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz in place of Richardson and Horford. Neither came close to giving the Sixers a comparable level of production.
For Korkmaz, it’s been clear for a while that he typically needs to score and to shoot at a high percentage in order to have positive value. The 22-year-old is in better shape and a bit sharper defensively than he was last season, but what Brown finds most appealing about him is his shooting ability. After going 3 for 8 from the floor Friday, he’s 43.4 percent from the floor this year, 35.7 percent from three-point territory.
Thybulle, after scoring 15 points, making all five of his shots and recording four steals in Wednesday’s win over the Kings, was scoreless in 21 minutes.
Perhaps Brown will consider starting James Ennis, who scored a season-high 20 points and knocked a trio of important second-half threes, the next time the Sixers need a spot starter.
Welcome to the NBA, Norvel Pelle
Norvel Pelle sure isn’t afraid to challenge shots — the 26-year-old blocked three per game last season and was a member of the G League’s All-Defensive First Team.
Less than a minute into his NBA debut, he didn’t shy away when Randle rumbled down the lane, rising in the air with the Knicks’ forward. Randle welcomed Pelle to the NBA with a powerful dunk in his face.
But Pelle didn’t hesitate a few minutes later when Frank Ntilikina drove toward the rim, swatting away his attempted dunk. In the second quarter, he confronted Randle again at the rim and won, denying him another dunk.
The big man, who’s on a one-year, two-way deal with the Sixers, had a winding path to the NBA. He’s played in the G League, Taiwan, Italy and Lebanon.
“It matured me, mentally and physically,” he said on Nov. 12. “I started young, so I had to grow up fast. Mentally, it just matured me. I know the different things I need to do and what it takes to stay consistent.”
Pelle admitted then that the transition to not having regular minutes was “hard,” but he was focused on staying ready. As he displayed Friday night, he’s always ready to block shots.
Whether he has the other skills needed to stick in the NBA is still an open question, but his attitude and athleticism were impressive in his first action in the league.
He had three points, four blocks and two rebounds in 13 minutes against the Knicks.
Harris goes into attack mode, eventually
With Richardson and Horford out, the Sixers needed Tobias Harris to initiate more than usual on offense.
He didn't take on that job early, going scoreless and taking just two shots in the first 15 minutes of the game.
Brown has talked often about wanting Harris to attack more offensively. Ideally, the Sixers would like for Harris to take charge without needing any extra encouragement, but his first instinct is to be selfless.
However, Harris was in an aggressive mode to start the second half and scored the Sixers’ first five points of the third period on a driving lefty layup and a corner three. He scored nine of his 19 points in the third and helped spark the Sixers’ surge back into the game.
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