76ers

Sixers overcome hideous quarter to beat Nets in overtime

Sixers overcome hideous quarter to beat Nets in overtime

BOX SCORE

Never in doubt.

The Sixers overcame a hideous second quarter to beat the Nets in overtime, 112-104, on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Thanks to Joel Embiid’s relentlessness — and timely free throws — and Alec Burks’ clutch baskets, the Sixers avoided disappointment in their first game back from the All-Star break. They were also outstanding defensively in the extra period, holding Brooklyn to one point.

Ben Simmons missed the game with lower back tightness and his absence was felt throughout this one.

The win improves the Sixers to an NBA-best 26-2 at home and 35-21 overall. They’ll travel to Milwaukee to take on the NBA-best Bucks Saturday night (8:30 p.m./ABC)

Here are observations from the win:

Embiid leads the way

Embiid got off to a hot start but did struggle a bit with DeAndre Jordan in the second quarter. Still, it was Embiid and Tobias Harris that really provided the only offense early. Brett Brown went to the duo in the pick-and-roll to start the second half and did get a few good looks.

The Sixers didn’t get a point from their bench until an Al Horford and-one with 4:51 remaining in the first half. The only other points that came from a reserve before halftime were off an Alec Burks’ three. 

In the second half, Embiid just wouldn’t be denied. He had 13 points in the third and put the Sixers on his back. He grabbed 16 rebounds — six offensive — and was a plus-24. He was 18 of 19 from the line, with none bigger than the four he hit down the stretch. It was as active and spry as we've seen the All-Star center all season, diving for loose balls and crashing the offensive glass. He had a game-high 39 points.

Harris was also strong as Embiid’s running mate, scoring 22 points (10 of 20) and recording 12 rebounds and six assists.

Burks provides a spark

Speaking of Burks, Brett Brown mentioned at practice Wednesday he wanted to put Burks in positions to score. In the first half, we didn’t see that. In the third, Burks gave them a huge boost with nine points in the quarter. You saw what he brings to the table offensively working in the pick-and-roll and finishing on a nice floater in the paint. Burks also came up with a huge and-one in OT to put the Sixers up two. He scored 5 of the team's nine points in overtime and finished with 19 for the game.

The Sixers needed someone to create and make shots and Burks provided. It helped the Sixers get back into the game and eventually close it out.

A disastrous second quarter

After looking in control in the first quarter, the Sixers had arguably one of their worst quarters of the season — and maybe of all time. The Nets went on a 46-10 run … no, that is not a typo. The Sixers were outscored 24-2 to start the period. It took a late run by the Sixers for the Nets to have a 32-16 advantage in the second. Miraculously, the Sixers only trailed by 10 at the half.

The big swing coincided with Horford and Jordan. Horford was a minus-30 in 11 first-half minutes and just looked a step slow all night. Jordan was a plus-25, was extremely active on the glass and slowed down Embiid after a hot start — though Embiid ultimately got the better of the matchup.

The Sixers also just couldn’t make a shot. They went just 6 of 16 for the quarter and shot 3 of 12 from three for the half.

Missing Simmons

It was noticeable how badly the Sixers missed Simmons in this one. How often recently have we seen Simmons just attack open space and either finish or create for others when the Sixers’ offense is struggling? 

Coming into the night, Simmons led the league in assists on threes. Perhaps his ability to penetrate and dish would’ve helped the Sixers get some better looks. His absence also allowed the Nets to direct most of their attention to Embiid.

In his place, Raul Neto struggled on both ends. Brooklyn attacked him on defense, and he didn’t do enough offensively to make up for it. The Sixers didn’t need Neto to be Simmons, but they could’ve used more. Shake Milton was solid in his second half run as the team's point guard.

Slowing down Dinwiddie and LeVert

The Sixers have routinely been victimized by the guard duo of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. The Sixers’ trio of Josh Richardson, Glenn Robinson III and Matisse Thybulle did an outstanding job in containing them. They scored their fair share of points, but took an awful lot of shots to do it.

Even without Ben Simmons, who’s been playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level, the Sixers held Dinwiddie and LeVert to 47 points on 16 of 48.

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Can Elton Brand and the Sixers fix what went wrong with roster construction?

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Can Elton Brand and the Sixers fix what went wrong with roster construction?

The Sixers had so many options heading into free agency last July.

We don’t know yet exactly when free agency will begin this year because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the suspended NBA season. Whenever it does happen, though, the Sixers won’t have as many possibilities. 

The decisions to give Tobias Harris a five-year, $180 million contract and guarantee Al Horford $97 million over four years are the two clear, primary reasons the Sixers won’t be in an especially flexible position. In Year 1, those moves haven’t panned out as GM Elton Brand and the front office would have hoped.

In one major way, Horford has actually provided what the Sixers expected. As a backup center, he’s been quite good — the Sixers have a plus-5.2 net rating when Horford is on the floor and Joel Embiid is off it. He’s been much better than a hodgepodge of Amir Johnson, Boban Marjanovic, Greg Monroe and Jonah Bolden. 

However, many of the reasonable concerns that came with signing Horford have come to fruition. The Horford-Embiid pairing has the worst net rating of any two-man Sixers lineup that’s played at least 500 minutes together. If you want an idea of just how poor the offense has been when the two have shared the floor, consider this: Their 100.6 offensive rating together is almost six points worse than any of the Sixers’ two-man pairings last season (minimum 500 minutes). 

Though Brett Brown was talking about aiming to further develop Horford and Embiid together as recently as the day before the season was suspended, that combination is a problem. It’s not what the Sixers would have planned when they signed Horford, but the decision to move him out of the starting lineup in February was very sensible.

Horford has shot more three-pointers than ever in his career, but not at an efficient rate (33.7 percent, his worst mark since the 2014-15 season). We thought he’d likely decline in the later years of his contract and be costing the Sixers money at 35 or 36 years old. To put it bluntly, he’s cost the Sixers money in his first season, and has not fit well. 

Harris, in his ninth NBA season, has improved defensively, is second on the Sixers in scoring (19.4 points per game) and, after an 0-for-23 nightmare of a stretch, has shot 39.1 percent from three-point range. He’s the only Sixer to have played in every game, and younger players like Matisse Thybulle and Marial Shayok have praised his mentorship. All of that matters and is positive, but Harris has not been worth $32.7 million this season.

The main question now — outside of when basketball will return, of course — is whether the Sixers can repair their mistakes.

Is there a team out there that would be willing to take on Horford’s contract and give up any value in return? The Kings, who reportedly were expected to make a “massive offer” to Horford in free agency, are one team it would make sense to engage. Sharpshooter Buddy Hield would presumably be the name of interest.

Trading away Harris looks much less likely, although we’ve learned not to rule anything out during Brand’s brief tenure. It’s difficult to imagine the Sixers receiving a worthwhile return, and Brown and Brand have often portrayed Harris as being an emerging player. They believe he’s going to get more and more comfortable and effective as a primary scoring option.

Josh Richardson, who’s suffered a variety of injuries in his first year a Sixer, is on a team-friendly deal. He shouldn’t be untouchable, but his perimeter defense and shot creation are important for this team, and they come at a good value.

Ben Simmons and Embiid are not what’s wrong with the Sixers and should not be traded at this stage. The pieces around them are the issues. Of course, judgement of whether those are issues the Sixers can overcome is incomplete. We don’t know yet how this roster would fare in the playoffs, and Brand has insisted his team was built with the postseason in mind. 

The Sixers would currently have a first-round pick in the draft — the top-20 protected Oklahoma City Thunder pick they acquired in the Markelle Fultz trade would convey — and that’s one of the ways they should be able to improve their roster. They’ve hit on Landry Shamet, Shake Milton and Thybulle in the draft over the last couple of years. With how Brand has constructed the team, targeting a perimeter player who can shoot, capably create his own shot or do both would appear an obvious priority.

Fundamentally, nobody envisioned this NBA season unfolding the way it has. Whatever is next and whenever the offseason eventually begins, the Sixers will have to discern the best methods to address the unpleasant surprises of this season. 



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Matisse Thybulle is a much better defender in real life than in NBA2K

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Matisse Thybulle is a much better defender in real life than in NBA2K

Matisse Thybulle is known for his defense in real life. In NBA2K, that is definitely not the case.

With the NBA season suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak, Thybulle and the Suns’ Mikal Bridges played each other in 2K on Friday night and streamed the action on Twitch.

Though Thybulle gave Bridges a little bit of a scare with a big third quarter, the virtual Suns beat the virtual Sixers, 75-64. 

While the intensity obviously didn’t compare to a typical game night at Wells Fargo Center, both Thybulle and Bridges — a Villanova product and a Sixer for about 20 minutes before a draft-night trade two years ago — were very into it.

Thyulle decided to sub himself into the game after just 28 seconds, and Bridges did the same 30 seconds later. 

“Which one’s shoot again?,” he asked. “Square?” 

As his team fell behind, Thybulle had some stern words for his players.

“Al, you’re better than that,” he said when Al Horford bit on a pump fake. “You’ve been in the league too long to be making those mistakes.” 

When Ben Simmons had a floater blocked, Thybulle wasn’t thrilled. 

“Ben, you’re 7-foot,” he said. “Just dunk it.” 

And a Mike Scott lay-up early in the third wasn’t what Thybulle was hoping to see. 

At one point, he tried begging for mercy from Bridges.

“Stop running pick-and-roll, I don’t know how to guard it,” he said. “Please. Come on, man.” 

Unfortunately for Thybulle, Bridges did not stop and the rookie left with a loss, albeit an entertaining one.

“I apologize to the Sixers, to my family, my friends, the people of Philadelphia,” he said. “This is not acceptable.” 

After personally finishing with no points on 0 for 3 shooting, Thybulle promised he'll be practicing.



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