In a game that felt like it was going to be reminiscent of The Process years, the shorthanded and scrappy Sixers gave the desperate Suns all they could handle.
Without arguably their five best players, the Sixers gave Phoenix a fight, but ultimately fell, 130-117, Tuesday night at Visa Athletic Center in Disney World.
The Suns remain unbeaten in the “bubble” and stay in the race for the West’s eighth seed. The Sixers, who drop to 42-29 on the season, take on the Raptors on Wednesday night for their penultimate seeding game.
Here are observations from the loss:
Short on players but not effort
The Sixers didn’t have a single member of the original starting five available Tuesday night. Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (right ankle soreness), Al Horford (left knee soreness) and Josh Richardson (rest) were all out. Ben Simmons had successful surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee Monday and is out indefinitely.
The starting five against the Suns was certainly different. Shake Milton, Alec Burks, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott and Kyle O’Quinn made up the starting unit.
Offensively, it was impressive to see the way the ball moved and how it was shared amongst players that don’t spend a lot of time playing together. They also took care of the basketball, committing just eight turnovers.
It should come as no surprise that a lot of the offense was run through Burks. The veteran has given the Sixers a much-needed scoring punch, posting his third straight 20-point performance. His ability to be used as a primary ball handler off the bench and his proficiency in the pick-and-roll could come in handy in the postseason.
Vets staying ready
Scott and O’Quinn are on the outside looking in at the team’s rotation. Early on in this one, they were two of the best players on the floor.
Scott, who missed the first three seeding games after having his knee drained, carried the momentum over from his strong play against Portland Sunday. He carried the load offensively for the Sixers early and continued to do the dirty work and show the toughness that made him an invaluable reserve during last year’s postseason.
Scott had a team-high 15 first-half points. He had just 17 for the game but didn't play much in the second half as it appeared Brett Brown didn't want to overextend him. Something tells me he might still be a factor in this year’s playoffs. This kind of performance will likely make an impression on Brown.
As for O’Quinn, he essentially became the team’s fourth-string center behind Embiid, Horford and Norvel Pelle this season. Teammates have lauded O’Quinn for his attitude and encouragement from the bench, but the veteran big man showed on Tuesday that he can still play. O’Quinn’s excellent passing ability was on display and he was on triple-double watch early in this one. He finished just shy with nine points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists.
The Sixers also got strong minutes from veteran point guard Raul Neto, who helped keep them in the game when it felt like the Suns were pulling away in the third. Neto had 22 points, four assists and two turnovers.
Devin Booker came into this one averaging over 30 points a game in the “bubble.” He’s been one of the hottest players in Disney World and has the Suns on the precipice of a possible play-in tournament for the West’s eighth seed.
Early on, rookie Matisse Thybulle did well but it was a team effort in holding the red-hot Booker to 3 of 9 in the first half. The All-Star guard still managed to get to the line eight times to account for most of his 14 points. Thybulle uncharacteristically picked up a technical foul in the second quarter after he was whistled for back-to-back fouls on Booker. Just two minutes into the third quarter, Thybulle picked up two more fouls and had to sit with five.
It was then on Glenn Robinson III. The veteran wing did a solid job, keeping Booker from just completely taking the game over. Booker still got his with 35 points on 11 of 24.
Overall, the Sixers did a much better job as a team in containing Booker. It was a much better effort than we’d seen against T.J. Warren and Damian Lillard, who both went for 50-plus against them.
Burned by former Sixers
Former Sixer and fan favorite Dario Saric looked more like the player he was in Philadelphia. The time off appeared to do the Croatian forward good. He was active in collecting nine rebounds, and also showed off his skill with 18 points and four assists.
He was only a Sixer for 20 minutes or so, but Villanova product Mikal Bridges continued his strong play in Disney World Tuesday. He had 22 points and showed the strong two-way play that made him such a highly-touted prospect with a pair of steals and blocks.
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