Not for the first time in his first season as Sixers head coach, Doc Rivers was asked to share his thoughts about a non-basketball subject capturing national attention.
Ahead of the Sixers’ 113-95 win Monday night over the Mavericks, he commented on the police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was killed Sunday in Minnesota during a traffic stop. Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon told reporters he believes the officer who shot Wright intended to fire her Taser.
“Frustrating, as should it be for … I think we’ve got to stop saying it’s frustrating for all Black Americans,” Rivers said. “I think we should be frustrated — all Americans. I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. I saw the body cam video, like everyone else. But I just know the frustration is a real thing for everybody. We keep hearing this cancel culture stuff, but we’re canceling Black lives. I think, to me, that’s a little more important, in my opinion. It just keeps happening. We keep making mistakes on killing Black people.
“I don’t want to get it to race, but it’s there. I think we all have weaknesses and we all need to confront them and find out how we can make this place a better world, a better country. To me, improving our culture as a society is really important. Not canceling it, but improving it. Other countries have done a terrific job. I keep going back to Germany; I use Germany as a great example. You don’t see swastikas, you don’t see statues of Nazi soldiers all around — and they don’t say that’s cancel culture. They say that’s improving their culture. I think we need to think more in those terms.”
As for the game itself, Joel Embiid was brilliant in a 36-point, seven-rebound performance.
Mavs star Luka Doncic posted 32 points on 10-for-20 shooting, four rebounds and four assists.
The Sixers are now 37-17 after a 3-1 road trip and will start a four-game homestand Wednesday vs. the Nets.
Here are three observations on Monday’s game:
Can anyone stop Embiid? Not on Dallas
Kristaps Porzingis missed another game against the Sixers, sitting on the second night of a back-to-back due to right knee injury management.
Maxi Kleber started at center for Dallas, although he wasn’t on the floor for long. The Mavs briefly turned to Nicolo Melli at the five after Kleber picked up two quick fouls. Embiid troubled both players, taking and making eight free throws in his first stint.
Boban Marjanovic was the next player in the Mavs’ center rotation, and the Sixers were eager to get Embiid the ball once they saw the 7-foot-4 Serbian on the court. Embiid possessed an obvious agility edge.
He had wide-open jumpers available to him whenever he wanted them against Marjanovic. Dallas was fortunate that he missed a couple in the first quarter, although he later knocked down two three-pointers and looked invincible at times Monday night.
Embiid has noted he feels an “itch” in his shot because of the brace on his left knee. Rivers said pregame the Sixers have “probably tried 10 different ones already,” and that he expects Embiid will be allowed to lose the brace by the end of the regular season. Even with the brace irritating him, it’s become routine for Embiid to see a cast of four or five defenders and score smoothly and efficiently on every one. The variety and fluidity in his game is not normal for a 7-footer.
“When we lost in the bubble, I was ... really focusing on my game off the dribble, and that’s helped a lot," Embiid said. “This year the system that we have is dynamic. It allows me to not be a five. It allows me to be a basketball player, either to run the offense, or to be a scorer, or to facilitate for other guys.
“So, it allows me to just be myself. ... I’ve never seen myself just being a post player. I’ve always seen myself just being like, I don’t know, Kevin Durant — just moving all over the place, shooting off the dribble, handling the ball, crossovers, posting up.”
Willie Cauley-Stein, yet another player in the Mavs’ frontcourt mix, pushed Embiid to the ground off the ball late in the second quarter. Incredulous that the officials didn’t deem the play a foul, Embiid posted up seconds later, splitting a double team, making an and-one layup and staring at Cauley-Stein.
Sixers shut down Mavs not named Doncic
Doncic had a more successful scoring night than when he played the Sixers in February. That was in part because the Mavs set plenty of screens that led to a defender besides Ben Simmons guarding him. The Sixers didn’t appear to mind when Tobias Harris or Danny Green ended up on the two-time All-Star.
As is usually the case, Doncic was crafty and a constant threat with the ball in his hands. Even against Simmons, he was effective at shielding off his defender, either calmly finding the shot he wanted, drawing a foul or kicking it out to a teammate.
The Sixers guarded well as a team, though. Doncic was a bit of a one-man show, with Jalen Brunson (15 points) Dallas’ No. 2 scorer on the night.
Offensively, this was a positive game from Simmons, who played 24 minutes and recorded eight points on 3-for-6 shooting, seven assists and six rebounds.
Once he sized up his defender, he generally seemed determined to drive directly to the rim. The end result in those situations isn’t always Simmons scoring, but that’s the approach both Rivers and Embiid said they liked after the Sixers’ win Saturday in Oklahoma City.
“His attacks to the basket were not passive attacks," Rivers said Monday. “They were aggressive attacks. (He’s) either going to lay it in or you’re going to foul him. That’s what we’ve been trying. Not going away, trying to get away from it — going through people, and he did that. And then the other half, he drove it and kicked it. I thought he had the perfect pace to the game tonight, and that’s what we need. We need to build on that. We’ll show him that. He picked and (chose) correctly tonight, which is really good.”
Again, Simmons played assertively without committing unnecessary turnovers; he only gave it away once.
“Just staying locked in and focusing on that," he said. “I’ve got to take care of the ball, and that’s on me. Just being the point guard and really focusing.”
Another nice night for Korkmaz
Furkan Korkmaz matched up against three former teammates in JJ Redick (who made his Mavs debut), Trey Burke and Josh Richardson.
He played well regardless of his assignment, earning a steal, taking a charge and scoring nine first-half points on three field-goal attempts. For the game, Korkmaz recorded 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Until George Hill (right thumb surgery) is available, Korkmaz has a chance to sway Rivers’ opinion of him and his defense. Korkmaz’s willingness to shoot from long range and knack for heating up are useful. If his jumper isn’t falling, can he still give the Sixers decent minutes in a playoff series? Is the potential for a shotmaking spree enough to override defensive concerns?
He’s yet to convincingly answer those questions, but give him credit for playing well at the start of a challenging seven-game stretch for the Sixers that includes games vs. Brooklyn, Phoenix and Milwaukee.
His head coach is pleased with what he's seen lately.
“He’s been great," Rivers said. “He has great rhythm. He’s doing less. I thought he went through that stretch where he tried to do too much with the ball, and now he’s not. He’s taking the shot when he has it. He straight-line drives, which is phenomenal for us. He’s not dancing with the ball anymore. We thought he got into that a little bit, and I thought that threw him off.
“He’s taking the shots he should take, and our guys are finding him. I thought Shake (Milton) did a great job tonight. Shake’s a scorer, but he really saw that Furk had it going and he tried to get Furk the ball. I thought that was really good.”