The Sixers’ longest losing streak of the season is over.
They pulled out a 120-113 win Monday night at Wells Fargo Center over the Oklahoma City Thunder to snap a four-game skid and move to 24-14, 17-2 at home.
All five starters scored at least 13 points. Ben Simmons nearly had his second straight triple-double, with 17 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.
Here are observations on a win that Al Horford said Sunday the Sixers were "desperate" to have:
Embiid plays through pain
Joel Embiid had an unusual, painful night.
As he walked off the floor late in the first quarter, the first few rows of the crowd collectively grimaced when they got a glimpse of Embiid’s hand and his dislocated left ring finger (see video above).
He seemed hampered by the injury when he returned with a taped-up hand but still had a big impact on the game, finishing with 18 points on 7 for 17 shooting, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Brett Brown spoke at length before the game about his team needing to “hunt” more three-point shots. Along with acknowledging his disappointment that Simmons hadn’t followed his public request on Dec. 7 for at least one three-point shot per game, Brown named Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Horford as players he wants to shoot more threes.
Harris seemed to get the message early, attempting three threes in the first quarter and knocking down all of them.
Though Horford only tried two threes, he did manage 13 points on 6 for 10 shooting.
As a team, the Sixers shot 13 for 26 from three. They entered Monday’s game averaging 30.1 threes per game, 25th in the NBA.
Richardson’s pick-and-roll partnerships
The Sixers have been aiming to develop the pick-and-roll partnership between Richardson (23 points) and Embiid since the preseason. However, the pairing with Richardson and and Simmons is somewhat new, or at least growing in frequency.
Brown said Sunday that the Sixers will “continue to look at” expanding Simmons’ role as a screener and roller, and we saw that vs. Oklahoma City.
Richardson is learning the nuances of running the pick-and-roll with Simmons as compared to with Embiid.
“Ben's a fast roller,” he said. “He's a really fast roller so I can usually play a little different. And Jo is kind of a slow roller, short roller, pop guy, so I probe a little bit more with Jo.”
Simmons sealed deep in the paint off a pick-and-roll with Richardson and scored in the first quarter. His physical presence as a screener also caused Oklahoma City to leave Richardson free for a three-pointer with 11.4 seconds left in the half.
And, on another promising sequence early in the third, Simmons screened for Richardson, then got a mismatch against Chris Paul at the foul line. With Danilo Gallinari focused on him, Simmons rifled a pass to Horford for a corner three.
Though the Sixers miss JJ Redick’s non-stop off-ball movement and shooting ability, having Richardson opens up new possibilities. He has a “wiggle,” as Brown said Sunday, and can help with parts of Simmons and Embiid’s games that have perhaps been underutilized in the past. If Simmons is still not taking jump shots regularly when the playoffs arrive, it would make sense for the Sixers to involve him as a screener more.
Big baskets by Burke
While we’re on the topic of pick-and-rolls, Trey Burke excelled in that action Monday.
He played with confidence, trusted his decision-making and posted 12 points on 5 for 7 shooting. His shot creation and scoring were valuable. Mike Scott’s two fourth-quarter threes were also timely points from the Sixers' bench.
Flipping a switch on defense
Though the Sixers focused on offensive structure and spacing during Sunday’s practice, Brown said pregame that defense was the biggest thing the Sixers needed to improve upon to snap their losing streak.
They didn’t start very well in that department, with transition defense especially problematic. The Sixers let the 34-year-old Paul walk into two straight threes in the first quarter and allowed the Thunder to score the first nine fast break points of the game.
Brown turned to a zone defense briefly late in the first quarter, but that was a short-lived scheme as Hamidou Diallo scored inside and former Sixer Mike Muscala sunk a three from the right wing.
Late in the second, though, the Sixers’ defensive intensity and focus improved, although they struggled with excessive fouling in the second half.
They have weaknesses on defense and have had plenty of baffling breakdowns and lapses in recent times, but the Sixers should still be a team with high defensive potential.
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