Sixers

3 observations after Sixers earn another high-quality win without key players

Sixers

Against the odds, the Sixers on Wednesday night capped a perfect 4-0 homestand with another high-quality win.

They moved to 6-2 with a 103-98 victory over the Bulls, who now sport an identical record.

The Sixers only had 11 active players. They were without Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols), Danny Green (left hamstring tightness), Ben Simmons (personal reasons) and Grant Riller (left knee injury recovery). Jaden Springer and Aaron Henry are with the Delaware Blue Coats.

Seth Curry scored 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Georges Niang added 18 points, while Joel Embiid had 18 points on 6-for-18 shooting, nine rebounds and seven assists. 

DeMar DeRozan was excellent for the Bulls, pouring in 37 points. Zach LaVine had 27. 

The Sixers will conclude their first back-to-back of the season Thursday night against the Pistons in Detroit. Here are observations on their win over Chicago: 

Thybulle and Korkmaz step in 

Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle were the Sixers’ replacement starters. The decision to start Thybulle was logical given his strong track record on LaVine. Korkmaz was a riskier call. Someone had to guard DeRozan, though, and he got the initial assignment. 

While DeRozan slammed in a reverse dunk after driving by Korkmaz on Chicago’s first possession, Korkmaz immediately got him back (plus a point) with a three-pointer on the Sixers’ ensuing trip. He even blocked a DeRozan jumper later in the period. 

Thybulle played all but the final 17.6 seconds of the opening period and a team-high 38 minutes in the game. He didn’t take long to pick up a steal and a block, digging down on a DeRozan versus Tyrese Maxey post-up to swipe one from the veteran forward and rejecting LaVine on a drive.

 

Thybulle was disciplined on LaVine — sidling into his space, influencing his jumpers and affecting his decision-making without fouling — but still dangerous and disruptive as usual.

“He’s been great. ... Tonight I thought he was very solid," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “You have to be solid on LaVine because if you make a mistake and don’t get it, it’s a three. And I think Matisse knew that.”

LaVine shot 4 for 18 last year when guarded by Thybulle. We assume those numbers will improve a bit for the Bulls’ star wing but again won’t be shining. Much of his damage came against defenders other than Thybulle and he was ineffective as a passer, notching just one assist. 

Fourth-quarter drama 

Embiid, back in the lineup after a rest night Monday, made a pick-and-pop three on his first field-goal attempt. He was just 2 for his next 9 from the floor, however, failing to find the touch on his jumper.

Despite his shots not dropping, Embiid led the Sixers in assists and rebounds. He also was the main reason why Nikola Vucevic managed just four points.

Embiid clinched the win with a sensational block on DeRozan, a play that was first called a foul but overturned after Rivers challenged.

“I was pretty surprised," Embiid said. “One thing this year, obviously the shots are not falling to start the year. I’ve been focusing a lot on the defensive end and I feel like with the offensive end being nowhere close to where it should be, the defensive end is where I should put a lot of time in. That’s what I’ve been doing, so I’m glad that block was not a foul — big play to close out.”

The bottom line is the Sixers didn’t require Embiid's best offensively, and the team’s supporting cast got the job done. Curry continued to be a star among that group, firing shots with confidence and world-class efficiency.

“What he’s doing better is everyone knows who he is now, and last year I thought if they got physical with him, they could take him off the ball and deny the catches," Rivers said of Curry. “Now he’s being relentless in getting open. And once he gets open with Joel coming, it’s a tough cover for anyone. So we put them in that coverage.”

Of course, this was not a flawless performance. Up 18 at one point in the second quarter, the Sixers allowed the Bulls to make the final period very interesting. 

One recurring issue: Sixers guards haven’t rebounded well through eight games. Maxey got beaten by Javonte Green for an offensive board during a 12-2 third-quarter Chicago run that cut the Sixers’ lead to five points. 

Transition defense was also problematic. Chicago mounted another run early in the fourth and trimmed the Sixers’ edge to four on a transition three by rookie Ayo Dosunmu. The Bulls had a 28-11 fast-break scoring edge in the game. 

 

Finally, DeRozan was very challenging to stop. The Sixers searched for somebody who could slow him down but never hit on any great answers. Even Thybulle couldn’t neutralize his mid-range exploits as two DeRozan jumpers tied the game at 87-all with 6:40 remaining. 

A short baseline shot from DeRozan cut Chicago's deficit to 100-98 with 29.9 seconds to go. Curry just about ended the suspense with a huge jumper inside the elbow after a Sixers timeout. 

How ‘bout Niang?  

The Sixers used a nine-player rotation. Isaiah Joe, the final member of that group, drained a corner three on his first touch. An auspicious sign, and ultimately consistent with how the first half went for the Sixers’ second unit.

Shake Milton was solid early in his matchup with defensive pest Alex Caruso, appearing unbothered as he got to his spots. However, the Sixers’ bench standout was Niang for a second straight game.

Niang in the second quarter made two three-pointers, drew a foul by pump faking and scooting to the hoop, and drained a pull-up, mid-range jumper. Led by Niang, the Sixers’ bench outscored the Bulls’ by a 21-4 margin in the first half.

Niang’s third-quarter stint included two momentum-shifting threes and a kick-out assist for a Thybulle triple. Twenty or so points per night isn’t sustainable, but Niang has looked like a player legitimately capable of swinging games against good opponents. 

Ironically, the play that elicited some of the night's loudest cheers began with a bad Niang miss. A wayward Niang three-pointer fell right into Embiid's hands for an and-one layup that extended the Sixers' lead to 94-89 with five minutes left. 

Though fully aware he’s an unexceptional athlete, Niang is a passionate defender. He communicates, puts himself in the right spots and gives consistent effort — all nice qualities for a bench player to possess.