The Sixers couldn’t climb out of a massive hole and fell to a 109-98 loss Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center to the Hornets, failing to extend their winning streak to eight games.
Joel Embiid scored 31 points on 10-for-17 shooting. He's now surpassed 30 points eight times in a row, tying Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson for the franchise record.
Gordon Hayward posted 30 points on 13-for-16 shooting for Charlotte.
Shake Milton missed a fourth straight game with a back contusion. The Hornets’ Kelly Oubre Jr. was out because of health and safety protocols.
Tyrese Maxey (10 points on 4-for-13 shooting, three assists) and Paul Reed both cleared health and safety protocols after time on the sidelines. Seth Curry returned from a one-game absence with left ankle soreness.
Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul watched the action courtside. Before the game, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers addressed the much-scrutinized situation with Ben Simmons, one of Paul’s most prominent clients.
The Sixers have a back-to-back coming up with games Friday against the Celtics and Saturday at the Heat. Here are observations on the team's loss to Charlotte:
Twin towers don't turn game
Embiid was called for two offensive fouls within 5 minutes and 12 seconds. The first was for charging into Mason Plumlee, the second for contact on Terry Rozier that the Hornets guard made sure the officials saw.
Instead of subbing Embiid out, Rivers rode a hand that’s been especially hot over the last five weeks or so. It paid off as Embiid scored 12 points on six field-goal attempts in his opening stint with extraordinary variety. He handled the ball often, creating good looks for himself and his teammates, and converted a step-back three-pointer.
Embiid’s ability to accumulate free throws is highly valuable, and it helped keep the Sixers in Wednesday’s game. Even with officials instructed not to reward specific foul-drawing tricks this season, he’s regularly too big and too talented for opponents to avoid fouling him.
Embiid did push the limits of his ball handling skill a bit on one zig-zagging drive, committing a turnover that led to a Rozier layup. The Sixers’ transition defense looked shaky against Charlotte, a potent team on the fast break. Two first-quarter turnovers by Curry resulted in Hornets buckets on the other end of the floor. It was a rough half overall from Curry, who had some difficult defensive moments, too. He didn’t score his first points until 3:38 remained in the second quarter.
Andre Drummond was a uniquely mixed bag behind Embiid.
The Sixers conceded three offensive rebounds on a possession early in the second quarter, which generally shouldn’t happen when Drummond’s on the court. The team dodged some bullets with missed PJ Washington threes, although Drummond fouled Cody Martin on a long-range attempt. A Drummond behind-the-back turnover early in the fourth quarter was mind-boggling given the circumstances. On a positive note, he did throw a beautiful, long outlet pass to Furkan Korkmaz and drive in for a powerful dunk shortly after.
It would be interesting (and logical) to see more lineups moving forward with Georges Niang or Tobias Harris at center against smaller, athletic opponents. Rivers went the opposite direction Wednesday, however, playing the supersized Drummond-Embiid frontcourt for about five and a half minutes in the fourth.
It didn't have the desired impact of game-changing interior dominance and rebounding superiority. Surrounding Embiid with shooters would've been the more conventional call, but Rivers went with an unorthodox decision and it didn't lift the Sixers to a comeback win.
“We were awful, and let’s try something," Rivers said. “It’s part of what you do as a coach. You try to shake it up, see if we can get something. It actually looked OK for us. Defensively, we got some stops and rebounds. But it’s one of those nights where nothing was (working) and we tried to throw stuff in. I do like that lineup. I don’t necessarily like it against that team, but it wasn’t bad for us.”
Maxey back in the fold
On his first touch, Maxey pump faked a three-pointer and drove into a well-executed floater.
His jumper was intact early on after an asymptomatic period out in COVID-19 protocols. He nailed a pull-up three-pointer in a two-for-one situation and then ensured his team maximized that final possession, sinking a step-back triple to put the Sixers up 35-34 with 3.2 seconds left in the first quarter. However, Maxey missed a handful of open looks later in the night.
Charlotte contained the Sixers’ offense well in the second period, playing a decent amount of zone defense. Though the Sixers weren’t clueless against the zone, they hurt themselves with sloppy giveaways and couldn’t create consistent openings with Embiid on the bench.
The Hornets also exerted effective ball pressure at times in the first half, too. In contrast, the Sixers allowed LaMelo Ball (13 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) and the Hornets to stroll into their half-court offense rather easily.
Regardless of any minor quibbles with Maxey’s performance Wednesday, it’s obviously nice for the team in the big picture that the 21-year-old is back and no Sixers are in health and safety protocols at the moment.
“I felt good," Maxey said after playing a team-high 38 minutes. “I’m glad to be back. You can’t simulate playing in workouts. And even the last time I was able to run up and down and play hard like that was last year on the 30th, so it’s been a minute.
“But it felt good to be back, get my wind back, and it was a good first step. But ... it’s going to take a little time. We know what we need to do and I think we’re not worried about (the loss) too much.”
Second-half push not good enough
Danny Green came off the bench and was one of the Sixers’ defenders on Ball. He made 2 of his 4 three-point tries. Meanwhile, starter Matisse Thybulle had zero points on 0-for-2 shooting and only played 16 minutes, none in the final quarter.
The 34-year-old Green stayed down on the floor after Miles Bridges blocked his driving layup attempt in the second quarter. He eventually rose and walked gingerly back to the locker room, where he had his right hip examined and was cleared to return, per a Sixers official. Green didn't play again after subbing out early in the third, though, and ended with just nine minutes. His health remains a recurring concern.
The Sixers’ aforementioned transition issues and defense on Hayward were larger problems for the team than Green’s injury. Hayward made his first nine field goals and scored 22 first-half points.
The Sixers trailed by 14 at intermission, a deficit that was 20 soon after the second half started. Harris (17 points on 6-for-14 shooting) gave Hayward an effortless transition layup with a casual turnover, which caused Rivers to call timeout.
Harris had three turnovers early in the third quarter, including a crucial offensive foul on Ball when the 29-year-old believed he’d earned a trip to the free throw line and a chance to stretch a Sixers run to 11-0. The play wasn’t a momentum-killer, though. Curry confidently walked into a transition three that cut the Hornets’ lead to 72-65.
However, the Sixers never got closer than six points in the fourth quarter as Charlotte responded well to every mini-run and the team didn't get sufficient scoring from players besides Embiid.
“(The turnovers) were mostly unforced," Embiid said. “It looked like we were shy out there. We didn’t attack, especially (against) their zone. But they did what they did. They made a lot of shots, especially Gordon. He was hot. They moved the ball and they played together. That’s why they beat us.”