On Thursday night time towards the Clippers, it felt for the first time like final yr’s Sixers determined to point out up. They have been comfortably the higher group for the first 24 minutes, after which slowly let their opponent claw again into the recreation, making a blowout nearer than it ought to have been. The Sixers are again, child.
In all seriousness, Philadelphia’s 122-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers felt like a return to the type most anticipated and a possible turning level for the workforce, with encouraging performances coming all over the courtroom. The Sixers have a pair of winnable video games this weekend – a house matinee towards Detroit on Saturday, and a Sunday night date with the Brooklyn Nets — which may function a possible launching pad for their season in the event that they carry over the positives from Thursday’s win.
However let’s concentrate on that recreation earlier than we begin wanting too far forward. All of it begins with the star of the present.
Joel Embiid forces a personnel change all by himself
The Clippers had completely nothing for Embiid in the first half, regardless of the massive man coping with a touch of foul hassle after choosing up a cheapie simply over a minute into the recreation. He took Marcin Gortat and Montrezl Harrell and turned them into souflee, going over, round, and thru them en path to 24 factors earlier than intermission.
It was a basic Embiid efficiency, combining publish strikes with outdoors capturing and a few uncontested dunks on seems from his partner-in-crime, Ben Simmons. Up 15 at the break, the Sixers have been cruising.
In stepped Boban Marjanovic, who Doc Rivers began in the second half to counteract Philadelphia’s massive man. And never solely did it work for lengthy stretches on Embiid, it floor Philadelphia’s offense to a halt.
“Boban is a big dude,” stated Embiid after the recreation.
However the Sixers performed into the arms of Rivers and his 7’three” center in the second half, in part because the switch exposed their own limitations on the personnel front. The key to limiting Boban’s impact is to force him to run and defend in space. Most teams would just pick-and-roll him to death until Rivers was forced to remove him, and that’s why he’s still just a role player despite his obvious strengths.
The Sixers, unfortunately, don’t really have credible threats in the pick-and-roll game, and they bailed the Clippers out by allowing Boban to camp at the free-throw line for about the first seven minutes of the second half. They conceded the three-point line to Embiid, and he was happy to launch away unsuccessfully, going 1/6 after starting the game 2/2 from deep.
When all was said and done, it was Embiid’s brilliance that outweighed LA’s curveball in the end, and the big man had yet another monster night: 41 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks, and just a pair of turnovers in 33 minutes. His defense, combined with the efforts of Robert Covington, was enough to stem the tide and ensure the Sixers didn’t give the game back altogether.
(Covington won’t get his own section for this game, but pay that man his respect for what he has done so far this season. He’s shooting almost 45 percent from three on 6+ attempts per game and serving as the team’s defensive Swiss army knife.)
Beyond Embiid, it was the reinforcements who proved critical to the win, with one young man, in particular, stealing the show in the second half.
Markelle Fultz is the spark that lifts Philadelphia
The box score isn’t overwhelming when you just look at the numbers on a page — 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists on 5/10 from the field — but you’d have to be blind not to notice how Fultz tilted the game in the second half. Serving in his usual role off the bench, Fultz came in and brought energy on both ends of the floor, turning up the tempo just when the team needed it.
“You simply felt the constructing change, you felt our staff’s temper change, we would have liked that injection of power,” said Brown. “We’re all going to see him push the ball and discover individuals, however I assumed his protection was wonderful as nicely. He actually deserves plenty of credit score for injecting that sort of momentum main into the fourth.”
When Fultz performs with function — and that tends to be when he has the ball in his arms — he seems to be like a wildly totally different participant. The fearlessness you noticed him play with at Washington is in brief provide nowadays, however it’s reemerging in matches and begins.
One of the best sequence of his night time, for my cash, got here with simply over a minute left in the third quarter. Fultz fought onerous to get by means of visitors and trigger Lou Williams issues on protection, then snatched the rebound and went coast-to-coast for the layup in transition, solely disappointing in that he did not throw down a dunk in the course of.
It is the kind of flash that makes his moments of timidness all the extra complicated. The expertise is clearly there, and it is a matter of stringing collectively performs and constructing towards one thing actual. He did that on Thursday, attacking Boban at the rim to shut out the third quarter and persevering with to get downhill as the fourth quarter started.
Whereas he seems to be younger in plenty of different areas, Fultz has executed a superb job up to now of remaining in management when pushing the tempo on the break. You possibly can see the deal with craft shine via when he is navigating via harmful waters, and it is easy work from there.
Fultz continues to do his greatest work on the ball, with out Simmons on the flooring. However we did see a glance halfway by means of the fourth quarter that would change that.
Small-ball Sixers get an opportunity for the first time this season
Sure, the Sixers have technically “played small” a bunch already this season, rolling out three-guard lineups that have been doomed to fail from the begin. However we acquired our first take a look at a grouping of Fultz-Shamet-Covington-Simmons-Saric on Thursday, and that kind of configuration is one to observe shifting ahead.
Admittedly, the outcomes have been a bit missing. The Sixers have been up 4 when Simmons got here in to exchange Embiid, and that group ended up a -1 because of Lou Williams catching a heater in the fourth quarter. However they generated loads of wide-open appears from three, and one defensive sequence noticed them flip a Covington deflection right into a Simmons dunk utilizing only one dribble between them.
Odd as it’s to say a few basketball staff in 2018, the Sixers do not all the time get to run a whole lot of units with a number of shooters at the time. In the event you watch the second clip in that video intently, you will see the distinction it makes — the Clippers have a quick second of confusion as Williams and Avery Bradley try to modify beneath the rim, and as soon as Saric units the decide on prime of that there isn’t any probability for the Clippers to contest Shamet.
It is a group that is switchable, and one that may take benefit when defenses collapse on Simmons or Fultz in the paint. Brown did not sound all that dedicated to giving this group prolonged minutes after the recreation, however he left the door open to making an attempt extra issues prefer it in the future.
“It is type of the approach the league goes,” said Brown. “The brief reply is sure, I am interested in that. Often, it is executed extra out of a reactive mode for foul hassle otherwise you’re dropping and you bought to only change the recreation. I feel going ahead it does curiosity me as extra of a proactive lineup as an alternative of a reactive adjustment that is in all probability not going your approach.”
The fast-break sequence is one we ought to be seeing much more of with a group that possesses guys like Fultz and Simmons. The extra athletes and shooters you possibly can placed on the flooring with them, the simpler life will get.
With the group’s franchise participant at middle, it is robust to justify going small too typically. However that lineup is proof of idea for a bunch of different seems the Sixers can run out, and there is one they will have to think about sooner quite than later.
Dario Saric wants a break, as a result of he has nothing proper now
The lineup lots of people would in all probability wish to see at this level is a leaner model of the beginning group. With JJ Redick in the lineup as an alternative of Saric, the Sixers would have a extra versatile (and productive) capturing menace on the flooring, and a lineup that in all probability appears extra like what they’d need long-term if Fultz pans out.
Brown virtually has to attempt that at this level, as a result of Saric has been completely brutal to start out the yr. The three-point struggles are one factor, however he missed some bunnies towards the Clippers, leaving layups brief and not using a contesting arm in sight.
Saric is a prideful man, and certainly one of the causes I feel Redick was the man to hit the bench as an alternative of him is as a result of the veteran is at a spot in his profession the place he’s higher outfitted to deal with that shakeup. Redick is aware of what he is right here to do, and that does not change no matter his starter’s designation. Saric has much more to determine as his first extension looms on the horizon, right here or elsewhere.
However Saric wants a break, if to not relaxation his legs then no less than his thoughts. Placing him on the shelf would permit the Sixers to toy with some extra experimental seems to be, and maybe play the beginning lineup that may clear up the group’s foggy future.
Failing that, Brown has proven Saric’s place as a better on this workforce shouldn’t be etched in stone. He turned to Mike Muscala in crunch time towards the Clippers, and although his shot wasn’t dropping Thursday, Muscala has seemed like a superb get for the Sixers thus far, shifting in and out of frontcourt roles as the recreation dictates.
With the Sixers going via this Fultz experiment and nonetheless needing so as to add Wilson Chandler and ultimately Zhaire Smith to the combine, Brown must be making an attempt out as many seems to be as he can in the season’s early months. Swap out Saric for Muscala in that small-ball lineup we mentioned and you’ve got somebody who can play legit middle minutes whereas nonetheless spacing the flooring for the workforce’s ballhandlers.
(Muscala ought to be getting the bulk of the backup middle minutes anyway. Amir Johnson has largely been horrible, and with Embiid on the shelf the Sixers ought to be making an attempt to get as a lot capturing on the flooring as potential to assist Simmons and Fultz.)
No matter Brown decides to do, Saric is displaying you with out telling you that he must take a step again proper now. It can permit him to recharge, and it’ll permit the group to discover totally different choices with out serving Saric a proper demotion.
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