76ers

Sixers take care of Jazz, and their unorthodox machine is starting to hum

Sixers take care of Jazz, and their unorthodox machine is starting to hum

BOX SCORE 

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.

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.

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. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: Hopefully Charles Barkley is wrong about Joel Embiid, Sixers

sixers-talk-joel-embiid-nikola-jokic.jpg
NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Hopefully Charles Barkley is wrong about Joel Embiid, Sixers

On the latest Sixers Talk podcast presented by Wilmington University, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Charles Barkley's criticism of the Sixers and Joel Embiid, compare the Sixers to the Clippers and more.

• Does Charles Barkley have a point or this all just sensationalism?

• The Sixers have new pieces and it's leading to a clunky fit. What is the solution?

• Just a little more Matisse Thybulle love.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question for Joel Embiid

To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question for Joel Embiid

In years past, it was a common occurrence for Joel Embiid to make a big play and elicit cheers from a sold-out Wells Fargo Center. He’d then raise his arms, imploring the crowd to get louder — and they’d oblige.

This kind of moment happened in Tuesday night’s 97-92 win in a slugfest against the Nuggets (see observations).

With Denver having gone on a run to cut a double-digit deficit to two, the Sixers made a push late in the third. As the clock was winding down, Embiid grabbed an offensive rebound and made a circus shot while he was being fouled.

Embiid went out to center court, raised his arms and the fans went nuts.

Moments like this haven’t been as frequent this year. Not because Embiid hasn’t had spectacular moments, but because he’s trying to be even-keeled.

I haven't done it enough all season,” Embiid said. “I have not been having fun like usual. … It goes back to with me being mature. And one of the biggest parts of my game is just having fun and by having fun is talking trash, but that part, that's kind of been cut. I just need to be myself and I guess just do whatever I want. Because when I'm having fun, I dominate. But this year, I don't know, I can probably count on one hand how many times I've done it. Last year was basically a reaction that I love it. They get me going. They understand me, I do understand them. So, I need to start doing it again because that's how I'm gonna dominate.

Embiid continues to be his dominant self on the defensive end — in case some national pundits forgot that there are two ends to a basketball court. He’s No. 1 in the NBA in terms of defensive rating (95.3) and anchored the defense that held the Nuggets to just 92 points.

With Jimmy Butler gone, it’s also been Embiid who’s been tasked with being the team’s go-to scorer in the fourth quarter. Going to a post player late in games is not something a ton of teams do. Then again, most teams don’t have a big man as physically gifted as Embiid.

Brett Brown has tried to do different things here and there — run isos for Tobias Harris or pick-and-rolls with Ben Simmons. Ultimately, though, Brown said his offense still runs through his “crown jewel.”

Embiid, who almost sounded like a player that had just lost, admitted that he’s still adjusting to his late-game role and also to the idea of drawing attention to free up his teammates.

“Not good enough,” Embiid said when asked about his late-game scoring. “Still getting used to [it]. The whole season I've been trying to adjust. Obviously, it's not the same as last year. It's completely different. So the adjustment has been hard but I'm gonna do whatever I'm asked to every single night. Like I keep mentioning, even if it's being a ball screener or just rebound the ball or take three shots — I'll do that. Whatever they ask me to do.”

It’s been a peculiar season for Embiid. If you were to just look at his scoring numbers, they’re way down. He’s averaging just 21.9 points, down from his 27.5 mark last season. A lot of that is the result of more aggressive double teams and a new supporting cast.

He also just seems a little off as far as his personality goes — and his words Tuesday kind of confirmed that. The only game where he seemed to be his usual plucky self was back on Oct. 30 against the Timberwolves. Of course, that’s the game where he got into a scuffle with Karl-Anthony Towns, shadowboxed to the crowd, got into a profanity-laced Instagram war with Towns, and got suspended for two games.

After that incident, Embiid vowed to never get suspended again. It’s a respectable cause, to be sure, but it seems like it’s led the 25-year-old into an existential crisis.

I'm not trying to be a distraction to the team," Embiid said. "The fight happened and we had good momentum and from there, we just kind of lost it. We lost a couple of games. So, I'm not trying to be a distraction, but that's just part of my game. And I feel like me losing that part, I think it's kind of taken a toll on my game. So it just goes back to me. Sometimes I might be childish and like I said, do whatever I want to, but then again, I care about winning. Everybody knows that. I'll do whatever it takes to win. I care about my teammates, I care about the organization, I care about being a role model. Everybody told me that I need to be — from fans to everybody else — I gotta be mature, so I'm doing it and I don't think it's working but I'm gonna keep doing it.

To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers