In many ways, Monday night was a microcosm of the Sixers this season. They dominated early, struggled against the zone and played an unnecessarily close game.
Lucky for them, they have Joel Embiid.
The All-Star center was spectacular in setting a new career high in scoring as the Sixers saw a 21-point lead slip away before securing a 129-112 win over the Hawks at the Wells Fargo Center.
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It was another game missed for Ben Simmons. The All-Star point guard is still being evaluated and considering treatment options, according to a team spokesperson (see story).
The win improves the Sixers to an NBA-best 27-2 at home and 36-22 overall. They travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavs Wednesday (7 p.m./NBCSP).
Here are observations from the win:
Over the last few games, Embiid has been much more active and engaged on both ends of the floor. In a game against a bad Hawks team and with Simmons out, it was encouraging to see Embiid continue to play that way.
He ran rim to rim all night which allowed him to get early post position and also allowed him to catch rookie Bruno Fernando on this chase-down block.
It was sheer dominance from Embiid all night. When he was in the game, Atlanta couldn't get anything near the rim. While the team struggled as a whole, Embiid was excellent, posting a career-high 49 points (17 of 24) to go along with 14 rebounds, three assists and three steals.
He also continues to get to the line, going 14 of 15.
In the zone
We've seen opponents run plenty of zone against the Sixers. What we haven't seen is the Sixers also running zone.
The Sixers' offense handled it well early. Embiid got the ball on the elbow during the first possession and put a Dream Shake on Fernando for a bucket. There were a couple possessions where they settled for outside looks, but for the most part, they knifed through the zone and got good looks. Then they went dormant in the third, scoring just 22 points. Brett Brown insists his team's issues against the zone are in the past. I'm not so sure, though the effort was better in the fourth.
As for the Sixers' zone, it didn't make a whole lot of sense. They won the first quarter 41-24 and then Brown implemented the zone to start the second. Atlanta scored 28 points in the period and played the Sixers even. It was an odd choice by Brown. We'll see what he says about it postgame.
Harris gutting it out
Tobias Harris landed awkwardly and clutched his right knee on a drive against Milwaukee Saturday night. Harris appeared to be favoring his right knee the rest of the game and was initially listed as doubtful for this game with a right knee contusion.
He was upgrade to questionable earlier today and was in the starting lineup. He's the only Sixer to play all 58 games this season.
On the court, Harris showed no ill effects from the injury. Embiid and Harris combined for 24 of the Sixers' 41 first-quarter points. Harris even initiated the offense a few times with Simmons out and was looking as aggressive as he's been. He had another strong outing as Embiid's running mate going for 25 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Josh Richardson didn't have a strong night offensively, but he was also dealing with a dangerous defensive assignment in Trae Young. The All-Star guard carved up the Sixers in their last matchup. A large chunk of the damage came from the foul line, with Young going 18 of 20 back in Atlanta.
On Monday, Young scored efficiently, but didn't just take over the game like last time. He had a strong third quarter which helped the Hawk actually take a lead after three but didn't live at the foul line. Richardson also really put the clamps down on Young in the fourth to help the Sixers build their lead back up. Young had 28 for the game, but was just 2 of 10 from three and only took six free throws.
The ‘new' starters
Al Horford and Shake Milton both started Monday. Horford was recently taken out of the starting lineup to lessen his minutes with Embiid. Milton has been in and out of the rotation, but started for a stretch while Richardson was out.
Against a team with a traditional four like the Hawks, Brett Brown opted to use Horford. When Horford was at the five, you saw the offense run through him at the elbow. He also ran some pick-and-pop and got time in the post.
He was solid with seven points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Every time Milton has gotten an opportunity to play, he's taken full advantage. The word that continues to get used with Milton is poise. He was solid on both ends in this one.
The second-year guard filled the stat sheet with seven points, six assists and five rebounds.
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