Sixers

3 observations after Sixers can't complete comeback against Lillard, Blazers

Sixers

Damian Lillard saved his season high in scoring for the Sixers.

The six-time All-Star posted 39 points on Saturday night — 11 more than he'd scored in any prior game — and led the Trail Blazers to a 118-111 win over the Sixers. 

Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey each had 28 points for the Sixers, who are now 9-8.

The team didn’t have Danny Green (left hamstring tightness), Ben Simmons (personal reasons) and Joel Embiid (health and safety protocols). Saturday night was Green’s third straight missed game, Embiid’s seventh. 

Game 5 of the Sixers’ six-game road trip is Monday night against the Kings. Here are observations on their loss to Portland:

The backcourt battle 

Back when the Sixers beat the Blazers on Nov. 1, they’d been a tad fortunate that both Lillard and CJ McCollum’s jump shots were wayward in the first half. That wasn’t the case Saturday as the duo posted 35 of the Blazers’ 55 first-half points. 

Meanwhile, outside of a late second-quarter stretch when Maxey invited contact well and flurried for five quick points, the Sixers’ backcourt was relatively quiet in terms of scoring. Curry missed several open looks, going 2 for 8 from the floor in the first half.  

Harris was the Sixers’ go-to guy in the first quarter, scoring eight of the team’s opening 14 points. However, he was too deliberate at times backing down or sizing up defenders and committed five turnovers in the game.

While Curry was passive after halftime, taking only two field goals, Maxey played a very impressive second half.

 

He embraced the physical, competitive nature of the game, forcing the Blazers to foul him on several determined drives and hitting 9 of 9 free throws. When the outcome is in the balance, it's so obvious he wants the ball. That a second-year player traded baskets down the stretch with Lillard is remarkable, and it's in line with how Maxey's played through 17 games. 

First-half shooting struggles 

Aware that the Blazers would often hedge hard, the Sixers set tons of ball screens and ran plenty of double drag actions. 

They did well early on to create advantageous situations, whether from the initial pass after the screen or through swinging the ball around. A Georges Niang pick-and-pop three gave the Sixers a 17-16 edge. 

The Sixers’ offense struggled after the team turned to its bench, though, experiencing an extended scoring drought. Furkan Korkmaz (scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting) still hasn’t shaken the slump that began with a 2-for-18 performance on Nov. 9 against the Bucks. Though Korkmaz has made himself into a more well-rounded player over the years, much of his impact boils down to whether or not shots drop.

The Sixers were just 3 for 15 from three-point range in the first half. As a whole, the opening half was frustrating for the team. Head coach Doc Rivers picked up a second-quarter technical foul, and he wasn’t the only Sixer miffed at the officiating and general state of affairs. Andre Drummond was called for a technical early in the third period. 

Maxey’s decision-making was sharp as usual — he mostly stuck to simple, smart passes and finished the game with nine assists and no turnovers — but Portland’s defensive pressure and aggression did put the Sixers out of rhythm on occasion. That said, the team’s performance would’ve looked far better at the end of the evening with better outside shooting. 

Thybulle’s return 

Matisse Thybulle cleared health and safety protocols Saturday and played in his first game since Nov. 4.

He started brightly, slamming in a dunk off of a weak-side cut soon after checking into the action. Expectedly, Thybulle wasn’t his best on defense. He committed two fouls in his first stint and got caught on a couple of Cody Zeller screens, one of which created a Lillard three. 

Thybulle’s activity level was high, though. He sought out cutting, screening and transition opportunities, scrapped for potential offensive rebounds and played his typically aggressive brand of defense. He blocked a Lillard long-distance attempt before the third-quarter buzzer. All positive signs. 

Just having Thybulle present is vital for the Sixers’ defense. In terms of perimeter defensive disruption, the third-year wing is in his own class. His availability should enable players like Maxey to have an easier time defensively, too. 

Thybulle was one of five bench players in Rivers’ rotation. Isaiah Joe was the final man off the bench, entering late in the third quarter during a Sixers run that cut Portland’s lead from 18 points to four. Niang started for a second consecutive game and was good on both ends. He scored 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting. 

 

Charles Bassey again served as the Sixers’ backup center and had another nice game, recording six points, six rebounds and a block. Bassey’s emergence has been one of the most encouraging developments from this road trip. The 21-year-old is athletic, a nuisance to box out and, for a rookie who'd been spending almost all of his game nights on the bench until recently, quite sure of himself defensively.