The Sixers were not built like most teams across the NBA. They’re “huge,” as Brett Brown has said time and time again, and there were legitimate questions heading into the season about whether their roster could contend for an NBA championship.
At the moment, their unorthodox machine is starting to hum.
With a 103-94 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, the Sixers are 15-6 and 10-0 at home. They’ve won eight of their last nine games overall.
The Sixers let the Jazz back into the game a bit in the fourth quarter but were in control for most of the night.
Here are observations on their latest win:
Horford’s value outside of the hot shooting
The Sixers have run more post-ups than any team in the NBA by a wide margin. They entered Monday night with 14.9 post-up possessions per game, over five more than the Lakers, who sit at No. 2 in that category.
Brown said before the game that he’s focused on improving the nuances of his team’s post offense, from entry passes to spacing to off-ball cutting and screening.
Having Al Horford should help the Sixers’ development in those areas. Along with being an excellent passer from the post, Horford often has size advantages that the Sixers can target, as they did at times Monday against Utah’s Royce O’Neale. And, when his teammates have a mismatch, it’s not unusual to see Horford point to Ben Simmons as Simmons dribbles up the floor — “Get him the ball.”
He’s a player who’s seen it all and definitely not someone who’s phased by the frequency with which the Sixers post up.
For the Sixers, it also doesn’t hurt that Horford has been shooting the ball very well. Despite going 0 for 5 from the floor in the second half vs. the Jazz, he’s shot 62.7 percent over his last six games.
Horford simply had a very strong night across the board, posting 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks, and is playing with a lot of confidence.
He even did his trademark flinch following a Rudy Gobert free throw miss in the third quarter, then implored fans to pick up the noise ahead of what could have been a Frosty-clinching brick. Gobert, however, made the second free throw.
Horford flinch spotted. 😂 pic.twitter.com/sm6Gd6Ghf1— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 3, 2019
Simmons and Thybulle shine on defense
The Sixers made a smart adjustment in their defense early against Donovan Mitchell, hedging and recovering a few times on the pick-and-roll. Mitchell had started hot on Nov. 6 in Utah, when the Sixers had his defender try to go over the screen and dropped the big man. While the mid-range shot is a look the Sixers and most NBA teams will typically accept, they didn’t take the chance that Mitchell might make a bunch of open jumpers in the first quarter and get into a groove.
Simmons and Matisse Thybulle did an excellent job on Mitchell (18 points on 6 for 19 shooting), and defensively in general. Thybulle seemed to bother Mitchell with his constant activity and zealous “rearview contests” when he fell behind in his chase over a ball screen.
Brown said pregame of the rookie that, “At times I should have a higher tolerance level for his wild decisions defensively.”
To begin the second half, Brown went with Thybulle over Furkan Korkmaz, who started his eighth game of the year and had seven points in 24 minutes. Korkmaz started again because Josh Richardson remains sidelined by right hamstring tightness.
Thybulle’s high-risk decisions tend to result in high rewards when he gets it right.
Not to be dramatic or anything but we would die for Matisse Thybulle. pic.twitter.com/65SbNO9ieU— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 3, 2019
THIS KID.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 3, 2019
Matisse with the steal! pic.twitter.com/PU1xbsRO9g
He had three steals, while Simmons added to his NBA lead with four. Simmons also nearly had a triple-double, with 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
Harris picks up the slack
For the first time since his zero-point effort against Marc Gasol and the Raptors, Joel Embiid faced a top post defender in Gobert, the Defensive Player of the Year the last two seasons.
Though Embiid wasn’t completely silenced by Gobert, the Jazz center guarded him well, limiting Embiid to 16 points on 5 for 13 shooting from the floor.
On this night, though, the Sixers didn’t need Embiid to be at his most dominant offensively.
Tobias Harris (26 points on 10 of 23 shooting) helped to pick up the scoring slack. The Harris-Embiid pick-and-roll was featured heavily in the fourth quarter.
A unique celebration
After sinking a three to put the Sixers up 57-31 (and getting fouled), James Ennis did a couple of celebration push-ups, much to the delight of the crowd at Wells Fargo Center.
It was that kind of high-energy, free-flowing, joyful first half for the Sixers.
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