Though nothing about the NBA’s restart is typical, one thing we’ve been able to say with confidence about the Sixers throughout this season is that they usually win home games.
Shake Milton's three-pointer from the right wing with 6.1 seconds to go helped the team escape with a 132-130 win over the Spurs on Monday night and make it 30 of 32 “home” victories in the 2019-20 campaign.
After stifling the Spurs' Jakob Poetltl at the rim, the Sixers sealed the win and improved to 40-27.
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Here are observations on their wild win Monday:
A better night from the backcourt
The starting backcourt of Milton and Josh Richardson that combined for just four points against Indiana had 35 vs. the Spurs.
Richardson (19 points on 5 of 15 shooting) was much more assertive offensively. Instead of using Ben Simmons as a point guard in the Simmons-Richardson-Furkan Korkmaz-Horford lineup, Brett Brown put the ball in Richardon’s hands plenty. It helped Richardson find a rhythm as he hit back-to-back threes in the middle of the first period and had 10 points in the opening frame.
Milton’s 16-point effort in 26 minutes was an important bounce-back showing, and the clutch shot should decisively shrug off any suggestion that he's not cut out for the starting lineup or major minutes. The 23-year-old scored at all three levels, kept things simple and wasn’t perturbed by ball pressure the way he’d been against the Pacers.
Though Milton was never in foul trouble for this game, Brown kept Raul Neto in his 10-man rotation. One could argue that Brown should’ve given the effective Milton a few more minutes and perhaps had a nine-man rotation vs. the Spurs. Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) and Mike Scott both were out, while Kyle O’Quinn was not eligible to play after missing his coronavirus test Sunday.
Defense lagging again
The Sixers’ defense wasn’t sharp to start this game after conceding 46 points in the fourth on Saturday. DeMar DeRozan had little issue getting to his favored spots and scored 11 of San Antonio’s first 17 points. The Spurs started 16 of 26 from the floor and 5 of 7 from three-point range. Simmons was, for the second straight game, noticeably a few rungs below his best.
San Antonio guards managed to navigate by their men too easily, leaving the defense in a difficult spot. The rotations were not precise when the Spurs whipped the ball around the perimeter. And, on several occasions, players were simply too slow to close out on three-point shooters. This didn’t look like the team that was sixth in defensive rating before the NBA’s hiatus and seemingly had the potential to be even better.
Brown turned to a zone briefly in the middle of the fourth quarter, but nothing slowed down the Spurs. The Sixers let San Antonio score 43 points in the final period.
Simmons was limited by foul trouble and didn’t score until he went coast-to-coast after a second-quarter steal.
He fouled out with 2:12 remaining and had eight points and five assists in 25 minutes.
A solid showing by Horford
Horford was a minus-26 during the Sixers’ loss Saturday as the 14 minutes without Embiid on the court were a major struggle for the Sixers.
His performance was improved Monday, and he actually played about two more minutes than Embiid in the first half. On one sequence, he found a cutting Tobias Harris for a layup and then, after a jab step, nailed a three on the Sixers’ next possession.
Both Horford and Embiid did look vulnerable at times when Sixers guards failed to get on top of ball screens. Horford, who again wasn't in the Sixers' closing lineup, had nine points, six rebounds and two assists.
Embiid can’t maintain ultra-high level
With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the rest of the season after having surgery on his right shoulder, the Spurs are an undersized team. They should’ve been in danger when Poeltl, the only traditional frontcourt player in their starting lineup, picked up two fouls in the first 1:09 and was replaced by Drew Eubanks.
However, Embiid was less aggressive than we’re accustomed to and had only nine points in the first half. He bizarrely had just one rebound in the first two periods after grabbing 21 against the Pacers. To his credit, he was double teamed (and even triple teamed) often and mostly responded well when encountering extra bodies.
The three-time All-Star found a groove down low in the third quarter on his way to 27 points and nine rebounds.
Harris (25 points on 10 of 17 shooting) is a competent mid-range shooter, but Brown wants him “hunting threes” and constantly looking for opportunities to score.
He’s done exactly that in the Sixers’ first two seeding games and rarely hesitated once he’s started a downhill drive. He’s more frequently seeking the paint and inviting contact, although a mid-range miss late in the fourth quarter that didn't hit the rim when Harris was guarded by Derrick White was a poor possession.
Ron Brooks’ taped rendition of the national anthem was one of the ways the Sixers tried to make this first “home” game in Florida feel something like the Wells Fargo Center. All Sixers again kneeled during the anthem in protest of racial injustice.
PA announcer Matt Cord also brought his usual energy to a pre-recorded introduction of the Sixers’ starters.
Cord’s volume and enthusiasm were a bit jarring in an empty arena, but nevertheless a good reminder of the routine heading into a typical home game.
“Sixth man” Alan Horwitz was in virtual attendance and appeared to enjoy the experience.
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More on the Sixers
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- Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers’ home games
- Warren outduels Embiid as Sixers fall to Pacers
- Sixers give explanations for heated exchange between Embiid and Milton
- Enjoy the ride as Embiid, Simmons enter their primes