If not for Joel Embiid, the Sixers would’ve seen a 14-game winning streak against the Hornets end Monday night in Charlotte.
They’re fortunate to have a superstar center who saved them from a bad loss.
Embiid posted 43 points on 15-for-20 shooting, 15 rebounds and seven assists in the Sixers’ 127-124 overtime win at Spectrum Center.
The Sixers, who are now 13-11, called a play for Embiid at the top of the key on the final possession of regulation. He took a fadeaway jumper that bounced off the backboard and then rimmed out.
That miss didn’t slow down Embiid, though. He was brilliant in overtime, too, and carried the Sixers to victory.
Kelly Oubre Jr. had a team-high 35 points for Charlotte but missed a three-point try on the team's last overtime possession.
Because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Hornets were down five players. LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee, Jalen McDaniels and Ish Smith all missed Monday’s game.
Tyrese Maxey sat out his first game of the season with a non-COVID illness.
The Sixers will stay in Charlotte and play the Hornets again on Wednesday night. Here are observations on their win Monday:
Yet another slow start
Monday night was the fourth time in the last five games the Sixers have lacked first-quarter energy and fallen into a hole because of it.
Nick Richards, Charlotte’s second-year replacement starter, scored six early points. The Sixers’ transition defense was an issue to begin the game, although the starters were able to stabilize things for a stretch.
However, the team’s second unit was outworked by the young Hornets late in the first period. Rookie JT Thor threw down a big dunk on Andre Drummond and also drained a three-pointer. A fast-break and-one from Oubre put Charlotte up 34-23 and it appeared the Sixers could be in a dangerous spot.
A couple of three-pointers in the second quarter from Isaiah Joe, playing his first game since last Saturday, helped the Sixers quickly erase the deficit. The Sixers’ bench was on fire as a whole in the second as the team began the quarter 9 for 9 from the field and scored 44 points in the period.
Whatever the reason for the sleepy starts, it’s now fair to label them as a trend. The Sixers will hope it’s just an early-season aberration.
Embiid as dominant as it gets
As is now the norm for practically every Sixers opponent, the Hornets double teamed Embiid regularly. PJ Washington had the unenviable job of being the primary Embiid defender and gave up about five inches in height.
Embiid countered the help defense well. If the correct play was to make a simple dish out to a teammate, then that's what he did. Embiid also scored a nice hoop in the first quarter by spinning toward the baseline before a double team could arrive.
His effort was a major plus for a second straight game. Embiid converted a coast-to-coast, and-one layup, worked hard for the full duration of the shot clock defensively, and sealed Washington deep several times during an impressive second-quarter stint. When he buries his man in the paint, it doesn’t matter if the opposition’s game plan is to send a second defender on the catch or the dribble.
Embiid’s concentration seemed to lapse for a bit in the third quarter when he committed two turnovers. His jumper was smooth and soft, though, enabling him to post the sort of outlandishly efficient numbers that were characteristic of his MVP runner-up season last year.
The Sixers needed Embiid to be great because, for much of the night, their defense was not.
Charlotte did not allow them to coast to a win, going on a run whenever it looked like the Sixers might cruise despite only playing eight men, including rookies James Bouknight and Thor. Bouknight scored his first NBA basket and 11 points. He threw down an eye-catching put-back dunk during a Hornets run in the fourth quarter.
Tobias Harris (21 points, 11 rebounds) had a rough start after a one-game absence with a non-COVID illness. He found his shooting stroke in the third quarter, though, nailing two three-pointers. Embiid connected with Harris for a high-low bucket with 1:10 to go in overtime, lifting the Sixers to a 127-124 edge.
Sweet shooting from Shake
Shake Milton started in place of Maxey and shot 6 for 8 from the floor, 4 for 6 from three-point range.
Milton’s four triples were his most in a night since his pivotal performance in Game 2 of the Sixers’ second-round series against the Hawks last postseason. Heading into Monday’s game, he’d made a career-worst 28.8 percent of his long-distance attempts this season.
From where we’re sitting, it appears Milton’s tended to shoot a flatter ball (and with less consistent trajectory) as he’s aimed to release jumpers faster. When he takes his time and is well-balanced, his chances of success seem to be quite high.
Oubre was a tough matchup for Milton defensively. While Milton has added muscle since entering the NBA, the impression is still that he concedes size against many conventional wings. To his credit, he’s improved as an on-ball defender over the years and is bigger and more versatile than both Maxey and Curry.
Curry had an off night Monday with six points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Furkan Korkmaz served as Milton’s backup and had eight points on 3-for-9 shooting, four rebounds and three assists. It's certainly useful that Korkmaz can play the point in these situations, given the Sixers had no one else on their bench who would've been comfortable in that role.