Sixers

3 observations after star-less Sixers beat the Blazers

Sixers

The Sixers had zero of their stars available Monday night at Wells Fargo Center. Ultimately, they didn't need any.

Joel Embiid (rest), Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons) were all out against the Trail Blazers. And in the third quarter, Danny Green was ruled out for the night with left hamstring tightness.

However, the players who suited up stepped up in a 113-103 win that improved the Sixers to 5-2.

Andre Drummond recorded 14 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and five steals.

Georges Niang scored 21 points and dished out five assists. Seth Curry had 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Damian Lillard posted 20 points on 7-for-20 shooting and 10 assists for Portland. 

The Sixers will play a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday against the Bulls and Pistons. Here are observations on their win over the Blazers: 

Spotlight on Lillard 

In an atypical scene at a Philadelphia sporting event, Lillard heard cheers during starting lineup introductions and “We want Lillard” chants when he first went to the foul line. Sixers fans were obviously plugged into the offseason trade speculation about Lillard, and many still seem enamored by the idea of him forming a dynamic duo with Embiid. 

Lillard opened up 1 for 8 from the floor. The Sixers effectively hedged ball screens and forced him into contested jumpers. They were also fortunate that he’s started the season cold and is missing a ton of shots he’d normally hit. Tyrese Maxey, Green and Matisse Thybulle all saw time on Lillard.

 

“He’s held up," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said of Maxey's defense on high-level playmakers like Lillard and Trae Young. “It’s tough. Every night at that position, you’ve got to guard somebody. And we’re not shying away from it. We’re just putting him on guys and overall, I think he’s doing a sensational job. He’s up pressuring the ball. He gets over picks so much better than he did last year. He hears the coverages better as well. I think he’s doing fine.”

CJ McCollum was also off to begin the game. He misfired on 9 of his first 10 shots, including a three-point try that was a couple of feet away from touching the rim. The Lehigh product hurt the Sixers in the second quarter, though, converting four straight field goals. 

Lillard looked more like himself when the second half started, picking apart the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense a few times and nailing a very long three over Maxey.

Though Lillard was dangerous late in the fourth, he never sustained any serious momentum. As a whole, the Sixers stuck to their task well and trusted Lillard didn't have any heroics in the tank.

New additions do their thing 

Drummond played the first 11-plus minutes and had a big early impact. He accumulated six points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in the opening period. 

Drummond’s ability to guard outside of the paint, create turnovers and start fast breaks is intriguing for the Sixers. It’s one of the ways he’s different from Dwight Howard as a backup to Embiid.

It’s also nice that Drummond should be reliable as a starter and not need to be exclusively a second-unit player. That said, one imagines quite a few of the issues present with the Howard-Simmons pairing would also exist with a Drummond-Simmons duo. 

Second-year players Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe entered the rotation without Embiid. Niang was the Sixers’ most important player off the bench, though. After a rough first half shooting-wise, Niang had a nine-point flurry in the third, extending the Sixers’ lead to 80-70. At one point, he even heard "MVP" chants at the foul line.

“Joel told me to never let that happen again," Niang said.

Niang’s got his limitations, like all players, but it’s been neat to see him take on a bigger offensive role than he had with the Jazz. He’s very good at shooting spot-up threes but able to do more, and the Sixers welcome his playmaking. His value will stem largely from his jump shooting, but Niang is far from one-dimensional.

“Georges is just a heady player," Rivers said. “He's a four, but he can play the five. He brings the ball up a lot, which I think helps our offense, takes pressure off our guards. He (has) constant movement, picks. And then he’s just tough. He’s not scared to get in the fray, and I thought he did that tonight.”

 

While he's secured a stable life in the NBA by knowing his strengths and weaknesses, the Sixers can sometimes benefit from Niang showing off the versatility that was a trademark in his Iowa State days.

Just about everyone chips in

The Sixers took 20 first-half three-pointers and zero free throws. Nothing wrong with letting it fly from behind the arc, but the struggle to generate any foul shots without their marquee names was a problem, albeit a predictable one.

Maxey, who’s habitually given the Sixers a jolt in third quarters early this season, finally took the team’s first foul shots 25 minutes, 25 seconds into the game. He added another 18 seconds later, scoring an and-one on Lillard.

Curry also began the third period well, striking a nice balance between making sensible passes in an equal opportunity sort of offense and hunting his own shots. He drained a dagger three with 2:05 left in the game, too.

Spot starter Furkan Korkmaz got in on the timely scoring act early in the fourth, sinking two consecutive threes.

The Sixers entered Monday's game first in the NBA in offensive rating. Embiid and Harris had a lot to do with that, but this performance exemplified the team's ball movement and variety of key contributors. On an evening where a team effort was required, the Sixers assisted on 34 of their 43 made field goals.

“It’s one of those games where I thought every single guy did something to help us win the game," Rivers said. “They kind of stayed within their roles. They understood what we needed getting into the paint and creating plays. Portland is a much-improved defensive team; they’re up, they’re hedging, they’re physical, they show. And it challenges you to move the ball, and I thought we did that tonight.”