Updated: 10 p.m.
Something that’s only happened one other time since the beginning of the 2017-18 season happened Thursday: The Sixers played a game without both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Tobias Harris led the charge as the Sixers took care of business in a 115-106 win over the Knicks at the Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid (left shoulder sprain) is expected to be re-evaluated in approximately one week, a team spokeperson said after the game (see story). Simmons (lower back impingement) will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks.
The win improves the Sixers to an NBA-best 28-2 at home and 37-23 overall. They embark on a four-game West Coast swing starting Sunday in Los Angeles against the Clippers (3:30 p.m./ABC)
Here are observations from the win:
Picking up the slack
When Embiid went down in Cleveland, the trio of Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson struggled, going just 12 of 35 for the game.
With Embiid and Simmons both out, the Sixers needed Harris to be aggressive and looking to score — and he obliged. He scored 14 of the Sixers’ 26 first-quarter points and had 23 at the half. There was no player on the Knicks that could match up with Harris. He punished their smaller guards in the post and drove on their bigs. He showed off his three-level scoring by also going 3 of 6 from three.
He was outstanding with 34 points (14 of 21), seven rebounds and seven assists. That point total is the most he's scored since he had 34 back on Jan. 15 against Brooklyn and one off his Sixers high of 35.
Like Harris, Horford had a bounce-back game, recording 15 points (including 4 of 4 from three), nine assists and seven rebounds. It’s been a struggle for Horford this season, but the veteran big took advantage of the Knicks using one of their power forwards or the talented but at times undisciplined Mitchell Robinson at the five.
Richardson’s offensive struggles continued early. In the seven games since Richardson returned from a hamstring injury, he’d averaged just 9.4 points and 37.1 from the field and below 30 percent from three. He couldn’t get it going from the field yet again Thursday, going scoreless in the first half. In the third, we saw Richardson warm up, putting up 10 of his 11 points.
The Sixers are currently even with the Heat for the East's fourth seed, with Miami winning the season series and holding the tiebreaker. The Sixers will need Thursday's performance and then some from these three players to keep pace.
Figuring out roles
Glenn Robinson III made comments to a reporter about not understanding his role. Before the game, Brett Brown had a chance to respond and Robinson was given the chance to clarify his comments.
Robinson got the start against the Knicks and his shooting woes continued (2 of 6). He was brought in from Golden State to be a 3-and-D wing. He still has yet to hit a three as a Sixer (0 of 9) and hasn’t been overly impactful defensively. He’s capable, but we haven’t see it yet as a Sixer.
Shake running the show
Brown hasn’t anointed a permanent starting point guard in Ben Simmons’ absence, but it sure looks like Shake Milton has won the job. The second-year guard continues to be poised and looking more comfortable running the show.
Brown has recently lauded Milton’s defense and we saw some of that Thursday as well. He wasn’t exactly going up against Kemba Walker or Chris Paul, but he still turned in a solid effort. Coming off a 20-point performance against the Cavs, Milton was strong again against the Knicks with 19 points (5 of 5 from three), four assists and just one turnover.
With the second unit, Richardson had another tough night as the backup point guard. It seemed like a role Richardson would be able to fill when the season started, but even newcomer Alec Burks looks like a better option initiating the offense at this point.
O’Quinn gets rewarded
When the Knicks turned to springy big man Robinson at the five, it would’ve made sense for Brown to turn to Norvel Pelle, who was active after the last two games with an upper respiratory illness.
Instead, he went with veteran Kyle O’Quinn, who gave the Sixers solid minutes Wednesday in Cleveland after Joel Embiid went down. O’Quinn was solid yet again, pulling in 10 rebounds in just a little over 14 minutes.
O’Quinn’s future has looked tenuous at best since the veteran big was relegated to fourth on the center depth chart. Much to his credit, he was ready to play against the Cavs and was up for the task against his former team Thursday.
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