Sixers

3 observations after Sixers’ pretty offensive performance vs. Hornets

Sixers

The Sixers’ performance in their blowout win Thursday night over the Magic would’ve been difficult to top.

While they weren’t as good defensively Saturday night, the team blitzed the Hornets with early offensive excellence and eased to a 127-112 win at Wells Fargo Center, moving to 5-1. 

Six Sixers scored in double figures and every starter shot at least 57.1 percent from the floor. Tobias Harris posted a team-high 24 points, and Ben Simmons had a triple-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. 

The Hornets will stick around in Philadelphia to play the Sixers again on Monday night.

Here are observations on the first game of their mini-series:

Green finds a rhythm, Sixers’ offense keeps flowing 

Danny Green was bound to find his shooting stroke at some point after missing 15 of his first 19 three-point tries as a Sixer. It didn’t take long for him to do so Saturday as the 33-year-old converted his opening three attempts from long distance. All of those makes came within the flow of the offense, and two were byproducts of Seth Curry driving and kicking it out.

“Obviously, the key is we were shooting well because we were getting open shots," Green said after the game. "I think most teams, if you swing the ball and find the open man, most uncontested shots are a lot easier. We know the worm is going to turn and we’re going to have some lulls or some lapses or phases where we don’t shoot it as well, but at least we’re getting the best shot for our team." 

 

The Sixers made 8 of their first 12 three-point attempts as a team, while Charlotte started a rough 2 for 10. The Hornets’ decision to play zone on occasion was understandable given what they were conceding in size and skill, but it enabled the Sixers to keep gobbling up offensive rebounds and knocking down long-range jumpers. 

After missing his first six NBA threes, Tyrese Maxey sunk one in the second quarter off of a Simmons transition assist. 

The Sixers produced a lot of those open looks with fluid early offense before the Hornets’ defense could set up. Simmons thrived with that style and had nine of the team’s 21 first-half assists. Over their past two games, the Sixers have totaled 148 points in the first half. Not bad. 

"It starts on defense," Simmons said. "We’ve got to get the rebound, that’s the first thing — or a stop. Then transition is easy. You’ve got guys filling lanes, either me, Seth or Tobias pushing the ball, and then you have (Joel Embiid), who’s worked his ass off in terms of being in shape and being able to run the floor every game.

"When he does that, I feel like we’re unstoppable. So, guys are wanting to play with that pace. I think we can. I don’t know how much faster we can play, but we’re going to keep pushing the limit."

Though Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey firmly believes Maxey will be a better shooter as a professional than he was in college (29.2 percent at Kentucky), an initial, important step for the rookie will be having defenses respect the threat of his shot. If he can reach that point and become known as a capable shooter on opposing scouting reports, it would enhance the danger he poses as an explosive downhill driver. For now, Maxey would be well-served by trusting his jumper and not turning down too many opportunities to fire.

Harris keeps it simple (and very effective) 

Because he’s usually catching the ball and immediately attacking, there’s not much to say about Harris’ offense at the moment; this is who the Sixers want him to be.

He got one dunk in the first quarter by running the floor and accepting a Simmons pass in stride. Harris’ other first-quarter dunk was entirely his own doing, and far more impressive.

Harris was an engaged, hustling defender, too, finishing with four steals and three blocks.

“When I see him doing that, that motivates everybody to continue doing their job," Simmons said. "When Tobias came here, defensively, he wasn’t where he is now. And he’s stepped it up — he’s getting a lot of steals, he’s getting hands in lanes, blocking shots. He’s made a huge leap from the past year to now defensively. He’s been, on both sides of the ball, a major factor for our team. And he’s going to be if we want to win a championship.”

 

Harris was one of the Sixers’ starters who played a bit more with the second unit. With Furkan Korkmaz still sidelined by a left adductor strain and Mike Scott out because of a left knee contusion, head coach Doc Rivers decided to use a nine-player rotation and mix his starters and bench players more often. 

Since Bismack Biyombo is the only healthy center in the Hornets’ rotation and Charlotte plays small ball when he sits, it didn’t hurt the Sixers that Harris was the team's only available power forward. In the big picture, though, perhaps that’s an area where the Sixers will look to add depth before the trade deadline.

Good trends for Embiid 

We’re verging on broken record territory already, but Embiid's impressive work reading double teams was a big part of the Sixers' offensive success in the first half. He saw the help coming before it arrived, knew where his teammates were and typically made the right play, whether that was a skip pass, a feed to a cutter or a simple dish back to the man who just gave him the ball. His passing has frequently helped the Sixers start pretty sequences where they whip the ball around the perimeter and eventually create an open three.

"For the most part, I would say the first pass right in front of him is where we’re looking," Rivers said. "But because we’re putting Seth there or Danny Green there or Tobias there, they’re trying to take that away now, which actually helps us.

"Now he’s looking off and throwing that skip pass, which leads to the corner three. I just love that he knows now, if I can throw it to the first guy, something good’s going to happen. If they take that away, something better is going to happen on the other side. I think Ben’s doing a great job with his timing on the dives. Early on, he was diving too early and they were able to get him and get back off. Now … he’s taking someone with him. So I just like how we’re doing it right now.”

Embiid did have a few turnovers Saturday he’ll hope to clean up moving forward, including one where No. 3 overall pick LaMelo Ball stripped him after a defensive rebound and one where he lost the ball trying to spin past Biyombo. 

Another positive trend with Embiid that persisted in this game was his more aggressive pick-and-roll defense preventing opposing guards from comfortably stepping into pull-up threes. It was noticeable that small, quick guards like Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham who would’ve been happy to take such shots against the Sixers in recent years sometimes needed to take a different approach with Embiid playing “up to touch.” 

That said, Rozier (35 points) still gave Green and the Sixers problems. The Sixers’ biggest team-wide issues Saturday were uneven transition defense and second-half sloppiness as the offense wasn’t quite as sharp or smooth after halftime.