Somehow, someway the Sixers are still unbeaten.
They earned their third straight win to begin the season Monday night, 105-103 over the Atlanta Hawks, after trailing by as many as 13 points.
Joel Embiid played after missing the Sixers’ win Saturday over the Pistons with a right ankle sprain and was massive in his return, with 36 points and 13 rebounds. He made two free throws with 5.3 seconds left after the Hawks' John Collins tipped in a missed Trae Young free throw. Embiid got deep position in the paint as the Sixers set up a high-low between Al Horford and Embiid, leading to a foul from Collins. Vince Carter missed a running three-point attempt at the buzzer for the win.
The Sixers will look to move to 4-0 Wednesday night, when they play the Minnesota Timberwolves at Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP).
Here are observations from the win:
Welcome back, big man
The Sixers came back to win in Detroit without Embiid, but the All-Star center reminded them Monday night of all they missed.
He dished a highly unorthodox assist to Ben Simmons in the first quarter and scored 19 first-half points on 6 for 7 shooting.
Embiid has said he would cut down on the trash talk this season. He didn’t seem to say much after a powerful dunk on John Collins, but he couldn’t resist a little shimmy. The officials gave him a technical for that boisterous celebration.
The biggest weakness for Embiid — and we’ve said this plenty before — was his decision-making against double teams. The big man had five assists and seven turnovers, often waiting a second too long before starting his move or identifying his outlet.
The Trae Young Show
Young is a unique talent.
The 6-foot-1 guard is in range soon after he crosses half court, and he has excellent vision and creativity as a passer. He helped Atlanta take a 24-11 lead with some of his hallmarks — threes from the logo and one-handed passes to shooters on the fast break.
Young tested the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense. Though they threw in a few blitzes, the Sixers mostly stuck to their basic principles, which made sense — there’s no way to guard against contested, 30-foot jumpers, and nothing to be gained from trying to do so. He finished with 25 points on 7 for 20 shooting, which qualifies as a decent effort by the Sixers.
With over 10 minutes left in the game, Young drew the fifth foul on Josh Richardson (14 points, three rebounds, three assists), leaning into the Sixers’ guard and drawing three free throws. Richardson returned to the action late and made an important block on rookie De'Andre Hunter.
The defensive whiz kid
When Richardson went to the bench, Matisse Thybulle became the primary defender on Young for a stretch, and he defended the Eastern Conference Player of the Week very well throughout the night. The rookie had three steals and two blocks in just six first-quarter minutes and also knocked down a spot-up three. Not only did Thybulle look like he belonged on the floor, he kept the Sixers in a game they could easily have fallen out of early.
Thybulle finished with eight points, four steals and two blocks. He’s immediately made the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense better with his ability to jump on top of screens and force turnovers when he seems to be far behind the play.
A baffling decision
Mike Scott was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul with 1:36 remaining in the second quarter. It was a hard foul by Scott on Atlanta’s Damian Jones to stop a transition opportunity.
The foul did not appear to meet the NBA’s criteria for a Flagrant 2, which is defined as “unnecessary and excessive contact” and an “unsportsmanlike act.”
Scott shook Jones’ hand after the incident, which didn’t put the Hawks player at risk for an injury or generally seem like an act worthy of ejection in real time. Quite simply, the decision removed an impactful player from the game — Scott should have been available for the Sixers in the second half.
Not accepting the invitations
Simmons scored nine of the Sixers’ first 16 points, but he only had four after that. The point guard added six assists and six rebounds. He does deserve plenty of credit for guarding Young well when Brown put him on the Hawks’ star in the final few minutes.
We won’t harp on it, but it’s difficult to avoid the observation that Simmons has yet to incorporate the jump shot into a regular part of his game. Atlanta gave him ample space to shoot and he didn’t accept the invitations.
Milton goes down
Shake Milton stayed in Brown’s rotation after stepping up in Detroit and taking some of Furkan Korkmaz’s minutes. Milton was having a decent night Monday, with nine points in 12 minutes, when he went down late in the third quarter on a drive against Jabari Parker and grabbed at his left knee. The 23-year-old hobbled off under his own power. According to the Sixers, he hyperxtended his left knee on the play.
Horford and Harris come back to Earth a bit
Tobias Harris and Horford, who combined for 52 points vs. the Pistons, had just 18 points total against Atlanta.
Horford (five points on 1 for 4 shooting) was deferential, while Harris missed a handful of open looks and didn’t find his shot until the fourth quarter.
He came through when the Sixers needed him, though, scoring eight of his 13 points in the final period, including a short turnaround jumper that gave the Sixers a 103-100 lead with 42 seconds remaining.
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