The Sixers were due for a clunker.
With Joel Embiid out because of an upper respiratory infection, they lost Sunday night in Brooklyn to the Nets, 109-89, ending a five-game winning streak and stretch of 13 wins over the past 15 games. The 20-point loss is the Sixers' worst margin of defeat this season.
Al Horford returned from a two-game absence with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness but did not have his finest performance, posting 10 points on 5 for 15 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists.
As a team, the Sixers shot just 5 of 26 from three-point range. They’re 3-3 this season without Embiid.
Now 20-8, the Sixers will return home for the next three games, beginning Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. vs. the Heat.
The rust factor
Both Horford and Josh Richardson struggled with their shots. Horford couldn’t hit the open jumpers the Nets presented him, missing his first five three-pointers, and Richardson started 0 for 4.
Richardson in particular looked a step behind offensively, playing his fourth game after sitting out the previous six because of a right hamstring injury. He made a handful of belated decisions and didn’t seem to trust his instincts. The absence of his regular pick-and-roll partner in Embiid also played a factor as he didn’t look as comfortable with Horford or Norvel Pelle.
Richardson likes to cross back on the pick-and-roll, changing directions after his initial drive, which can cause problems for big men who aren’t accustomed to playing with him. He was forced to leave after picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter on an off-ball whistle that Richardson and Brett Brown couldn’t believe.
To his credit, Richardson played hard when he returned and began to have a bit more offensive success.
The Sixers felt several aspects of Embiid’s absence. They took hits with their rim protection, post scoring and ability to create offense when possessions stagnated. Horford is obviously a strong replacement, but Embiid is central to the Sixers in so many ways.
Spencer Dinwiddie (24 points) and Brooklyn’s guards attacked Horford time and time again in the middle pick-and-roll. The Sixers’ perimeter players consistently failed to work over the screen, leaving Horford in a vulnerable position against quicker guards who had momentum. He didn’t fare well in those situations.
Mixed results for Simmons vs. Nets' sagging defense
This was a game where it would not have been difficult for Ben Simmons to fulfill Brown’s request for a minimum of one-three-point attempt per game as the Nets sagged well off him. The Sixers countered by having Simmons use the open space with drives and dribble handoffs to his teammates, and by looking to get Simmons the ball in the post.
That approach, a familiar one for the Sixers, had mixed results. Simmons finished with a team-high 20 points, five rebounds and three assists but was rarely able to break free in transition. The Sixers had just eight fast break points.
Turnover issues resurface
In the first half, the Sixers turned it over 10 times.
With no Embiid and Horford and Richardson’s shooting woes, they couldn’t afford those lost possessions.
Tobias Harris had 17 points on 8 for 17 shooting, but he gave it away a team-high four times and couldn’t sustain any offensive rhythm after scoring six of the Sixers’ first eight points.
🌀 🌀 🌀— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 15, 2019
Tobias with the pretty moves in Brooklyn. Sixers trail by one early in the first. pic.twitter.com/PiegFouA1X
A tough night for the bench
Matisse Thybulle had a poor opening stint. He wasn’t as sharp as usual defensively and was indecisive on the other end, passing up open shots and committing a bad turnover that led to a Theo Pinson and-one which capped a 17-4 Nets run that put Brooklyn up 26-16.
The rookie was ruled out early in the fourth quarter because on an upset stomach.
It was a tough night for the Sixers’ second unit overall, with Brooklyn’s bench outscoring the Sixers’ 40-23. Much of that output for the Sixers came late in the fourth quarter.
The Norvel Pelle Experience
Norvel Pelle might have the highest rate of attempted “poster” dunks against in the NBA. DeAndre Jordan added one in the second quarter Sunday in Pelle’s fourth NBA regular-season game, taking off with a head of steam on a fast break. Pelle went up with Jordan and the ball clanked off the back rim.
Jordan tried again late in the third quarter, and Pelle met him well above the cylinder.
The two-way player was the Sixers’ backup center for the second straight game and posted two points, four rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes.
He generally needs to make an impact defensively because he doesn’t have many offensive attributes outside of screening and rolling, lob catching and offensive rebounding. A First Team All-Defensive selection last season in the G League, Pelle definitely has a track record of doing that at lower levels.
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