Sixers observations

Sixers sweat out a win over Knicks and end skid on road

Sixers sweat out a win over Knicks and end skid on road

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ six-game road losing streak is over thanks to a 90-87 win Saturday night at Madison Square Garden over the New York Knicks. It was certainly not an easy victory.

Tobias Harris’ three-pointer with 27.7 seconds left gave the Sixers the lead.

Marcus Morris’ heave from near half court at the buzzer to tie the game went off the back rim. 

The win moves the Sixers to 28-16 this season and 8-14 on the road. 

Here are observations from the game: 

The same story for Simmons 

Ben Simmons, as he’s made a habit of doing lately, started in attack mode. 

He shifted gears very well. He drew two free throws off a Furkan Korkmaz ball screen in the first quarter by picking the right occasion to drive when the Knicks hedged. In the second, he took advantage of the Knicks’ confusion to go right through the heart of their defense. 

It probably doesn’t need to be said because he has shown it so often, but Simmons always seems on the verge of a highlight in transition. 

Yet again, Simmons was much less effective on offense after halftime and especially so in the fourth quarter, when he was scoreless. He scored 16 of his 21 points in the first half and has now scored 20-plus points in four straight games. 

It’s understandable that Simmons isn’t the focal point of the Sixers’ offense in the second half, but the team needs him to be a little more of a threat to score late in games. He was too deferential in the fourth, content to run the called play and then wait for something to happen. 

Make no mistake, though: Simmons was the Sixers’ best player Saturday. He had eight assists, no turnovers and two steals. 

Furkan’s on fire 

Friday night was all about Korkmaz. He scored a career-high 24 points, made six threes and even took a charge in the fourth quarter on the Bulls’ Zach LaVine. His confidence didn’t wear off during the commute to New York.

Korkmaz had eight points in his first stint, dropping in a floater before hitting one three from the right wing and another from the left. 

He made his next shot, too, absorbing contact from Allonzo Trier and converting a four-point play early in the third quarter, and he followed that up by running a sharp two-man game with Al Horford and driving smoothly to the rim. 

Korkmaz finished with 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting. 

They’ll take it … 

This was far from the Sixers’ finest performance.

They only managed 38 second-half points, allowing the 11-32 Knicks to stay competitive. Josh Richardson was too careless with the ball, turning it over seven times. Harris shot 5 for 13. New York had 12 offensive rebounds, while the Sixers only had five. 

All that said, earning a road victory for the first time since Dec. 23 was important. Heading into Monday’s game in Brooklyn (3 p.m./NBCSP), what matters the most for the Sixers is just that they found a way to win away from Wells Fargo Center. 

Scary moment with Horford

Horford went down after being fouled by Reggie Bullock with 6:31 left in the third quarter, and he appeared to be holding his left hand as he went to the bench.

Though Horford didn’t play well in New York (four points on 2 of 9 shooting), a serious injury to the 33-year-old obviously would have been big. 

The Sixers are a massive team, but losing Horford would have tested their depth and perhaps forced Simmons to play minutes at center.  

Another start for Thybulle 

Matisse Thybulle, who started for the third straight game, still regularly makes plays that, as they unfold, are hard to believe.

The speed with which he closed out on Reggie Bullock and swatted his shot early in the third quarter was impressive.

Thybulle has a rookie-high 51 steals and 32 blocks in 36 games. 

Guaranteed entertainment 

Two-way player Norvel Pelle was back with the Sixers on Saturday night.

The 26-year-old rookie sure looks like he has NBA skills in his shot blocking and screening and rolling. It will be interesting to see how his situation shakes out. 

If nothing else, he is highly entertaining to watch. 

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More early aggression from Ben Simmons, clutch shotmaking from Tobias Harris lift Sixers to win over Nets

More early aggression from Ben Simmons, clutch shotmaking from Tobias Harris lift Sixers to win over Nets

BOX SCORE 

On the road, the Sixers have lost six games in a row. At Wells Fargo Center, they’re still tough to beat.

They topped the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night, 117-106, to move to 19-2 at home, 26-16 overall.

They’ll play the Chicago Bulls on Friday (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations on the win:

Simmons attacks early

Ben Simmons scored six of the Sixers’ first nine points in Dallas on Saturday and eight of their first 17 in Indiana on Monday.

“I thought in the first half [Monday] there was a dominant, tank mentality where he was going to dunk on anybody that was in front of him,” Brett Brown said pregame of Simmons.

That early aggression is encouraging and Simmons maintained it Wednesday, scoring 10 of his team’s opening 18. It helped that the Sixers forced five early Nets turnovers and played fast when possible. 

As they had in their first meeting, Brooklyn played off Simmons to an extreme degree, and the Sixers often countered by calling “12,” with a wing running up from the baseline to either give Simmons a ball screen or receive a handoff. The action had mixed results, but Simmons was generally very good at powering through contact and quickly eating up the open space the Nets gave him. 

In the fourth quarter, Furkan Korkmaz (15 points) made a three go-ahead three when, as the Nets prepared for a Simmons drive off “12,” the Australian point guarded handed it to his open teammate.

Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 of which came before halftime, and 11 assists. 

Harris comes through in the clutch

The Sixers received contrasting offensive contributions from their starters outside of Simmons. 

Tobias Harris was decisive and sharp, scoring a game-high 34 points on 20 shots. 

He was also massive late. Harris made a contested three from the left wing to put the Sixers up 109-104.

He then scored on the Sixers’ next two possessions, including a floater that gave the Sixers a nine-point lead and basically sealed the game. 

Al Horford struggled for most of the night, missing a heap of open looks on his way to a 4-for-14 shooting performance.

Josh Richardson had 15 points (5 for 12 shooting).

Holding down Irving 

The Sixers (and Richardson in particular) guarded Nets star Kyrie Irving very well, holding him to 14 points on 6 for 21 shooting.

However, Spencer Dinwiddie (26 points) and Jarrett Allen (17 points, 7 of 8 shooting) did have success in the pick-and-roll.

Doubling down 

Brown said pregame that Sixers would “double down” on wanting to increase their volume of three-point attempts, even after hitting only 15 of 70 threes (21.4) over their last two games.

The Sixers shot 11 for 30 from three vs. the Nets, a significant improvement in efficiency. 

‘I want to try to grow Matisse’ 

Matisse Thybulle started Wednesday, taking Mike Scott’s place. Scott had gone 3 of 14 from three-point range over his last three starts.

It was easy to see the logic in that decision, and Thybulle had several bright moments, including a rejection of a Joe Harris jumper in the first quarter followed by a layup on the resulting fast break. In the second quarter, he had one of his trademark “rearview” blocks on Irving, then sprinted down the floor, found his spot in the left corner and sunk a three. 

Other rotation decisions were more interesting. James Ennis was the fifth bench player to check in for the Sixers, but he played 15 minutes — in part because of Thybulle picking up his fourth foul early in the third —  and posted six points and five rebounds. He hadn’t played against Indiana, which Brown said before the game was primarily about a desire to develop the rookie Thybulle.

“I want to try to grow Matisse,” he said. “And at some point, you say, ‘Am I going to play 10 or nine?’ The lion’s share of some of James’ minutes were shifted over to Matisse. I don’t believe it’s something that you’re going to see a steady diet of. I wanted to try it, I did. Probably what you should hear most clearly is I want to try to grow Matisse more.”

Ennis doesn’t have a standout skill besides perhaps his offensive rebounding, but he’s been a dependable player for the Sixers, someone they can get decent playing time from in most situations. With the current roster, he should certainly be a stable part of the rotation.  

Raul Neto got the backup point guard minutes over Trey Burke, as he had in the second half vs. the Pacers, and recorded four points in seven minutes.

Norvel Pelle served as the team’s backup center until the Sixers briefly went with a Harris-Scott frontcourt late in the third quarter against an ultra-small Brooklyn lineup.

The NBA days left on Pelle’s two-way deal are nearly up and the Sixers have elected not to convert him to an NBA contract at the moment because they want to preserve flexibility ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline (see story).

Embiid starts working his way back 

Joel Embiid, after undergoing surgery Friday in New York for a torn ligament in his left hand, was back in Philadelphia and went through pregame conditioning drills, as well as doing form shooting with one hand.

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Sixers limit Luka Doncic but slide to loss in worst shooting performance of season

Sixers limit Luka Doncic but slide to loss in worst shooting performance of season

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers held Mavericks star Luka Doncic to 19 points on 4 for 15 shooting and took 19 more shots than their opponents Saturday night in Dallas — those are the major positives.

The glaring negative is that they also had their worst shooting performance of the season, hitting only 37.8 percent of their field goals in a 109-91 loss. From three-point range, the Sixers shot 24.3 percent. 

The loss drops the Sixers to 25-15 overall and is their fifth defeat in a row on the road. They’re now 4-5 this season without Joel Embiid, who had successful surgery Friday on a torn ligament in his left hand.

Lasered in on Luka 

The Sixers were both aggressive and intelligent early in their coverages against Doncic, blitzing and hedging against him several times in the pick-and-roll. Their scheme was smart, but the best part of their defense was simply Ben Simmons. He had four first-quarter steals as the Sixers forced eight turnovers in the opening period against a Mavs team that entered Saturday averaging only 12.9 turnovers, the fewest in the NBA. 

Simmons scored six of the Sixers’ first nine points and leaked out for two dunks, including an uncontested one after Doncic considered resistance, then thought better of the idea when Simmons started to accelerate.

When Simmons left with three fouls in the middle of the second quarter, others picked up the slack defensively for the rest of the half. Josh Richardson guarded Doncic full court at times, James Ennis frustrated him with dogged defense on the Mavs’ final possession of the first half and Al Horford was solid in protecting the rim. There was a team-wide diligence and high effort in rotating and scrambling when Doncic did manage to penetrate, too. 

A woeful third quarter 

Following a half in which they grabbed the game’s first 10 offensive rebounds, had eight fewer turnovers than Dallas and missed a bunch of open shots, the Sixers could easily have led by more than nine points. They’ll regret not building a double-digit lead. 

Along with continuing to struggle shooting in the third quarter, their level dropped across the board in other areas, and they understandably appeared frustrated. The Mavs won the third period, 32-16.

Simmons (11 points, 11 assists) was stymied in the second half, producing little in half-court offense and going scoreless. 

Horford heats up too late

Horford’s began 1 of 10 from the floor but didn’t stop shooting. He hit his next five attempts and finished 6 of 16 for 16 points.

There wasn’t a discernible difference in the quality of Horford’s looks, just an improved rhythm and confidence once his jumpers started to fall. 

Especially with Embiid out, much of the Sixers’ offensive success will fall on how frequently Horford converts the open outside shots that teams give him. 

Mike Scott, the fifth starter for a second consecutive game in Embiid’s absence, had nine points (3 of 9). 

Pelle is the backup center, for now 

Norvel Pelle’s skill set isn’t all flashy dunks and blocks. The two-way player carves out space for his teammates as a screener and seems to understand timing and body positioning well. 

The Sixers’ offense early in the second quarter featured Richardson-Pelle and Simmons-Pelle spread pick-and-rolls.

Pelle again received the backup center minutes over eighth-year veteran Kyle O’Quinn, which was unsurprising after his strong performance Thursday vs. the Celtics. 

A former Sixers backup big, Boban Marjanovic, hurt his former team with an efficient offensive night, scoring 12 points on 5 for 6 shooting. 

As for Pelle, he finished with four points, six rebounds, five fouls and a block in 15 minutes. The NBA days remaining on his current two-way deal are dwindling (see story). 

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