3 observations after Embiid scores 38, carries Sixers to win over Spurs originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers will head back to Philadelphia with some hard-earned positive momentum ahead of a five-game homestand.
Why? If you’re a Sixers fan who missed Sunday night’s 115-109 win over the Spurs at AT&T Center, you can likely guess the answer. It’s Joel Embiid, who's still playing the best basketball of his career.
Embiid carried his team to victory with a 38-point, 12-rebound, six-assist performance.
Spurs center Jakob Poeltl recorded 25 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Shake Milton (back contusion), Danny Green (right hip pain), Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder sprain) and Seth Curry (left ankle soreness) all remained out for the 27-19 Sixers.
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The team will begin its homestand on Tuesday against the Pelicans. Here are observations on the Sixers' win over San Antonio:
Brown takes on another star
Charlie Brown Jr., who’s been getting many of the defensive assignments that would go to Thybulle, started for the second time in three games. He matched up with Dejounte Murray, who had 19 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
Brown’s ability to stay in plays and contest drivers has shined during his two-plus weeks as a Sixer. He battles through and around screens, and the St. Joe’s product doesn’t like conceding layups even when he’s a step or two behind. That he’s maintained the ceaseless activity without racking up fouls is impressive.
As a whole, the Sixers were competitive and rotated well on the defense in the first half. They benefited from the Spurs’ rough shooting, too; San Antonio opened the game 1 for 10 from three-point range.
Brown took an unintentional elbow to the face from Doug McDermott early in the third quarter and subbed out after the play, but he was fine to stay in the game. In his 27 minutes, he posted seven points, four rebounds and two steals.
Cold Embiid start not a problem
Just like when they faced the Sixers on Jan. 7, the Spurs tried to double team Embiid once he made his move from the post.
That led to some cat-and-mouse action with Embiid attempting to manipulate the defense and force the Spurs to commit to unwise help. It also meant Embiid got some comfortable jumpers off against Poeltl. Those shots weren’t falling as much as usual early on; Embiid began the game 2 for 8.
The Sixers managed to extend their lead after Embiid hit the bench. Isaiah Joe and Georges Niang each made threes, Andre Drummond slammed in an alley-oop feed from Furkan Korkmaz, and the Spurs were unlucky (and just plain ineffective) on a few occasions from close range.
A put-back layup by Tobias Harris (18 points, 11 rebounds) built the Sixers’ edge to 33-23 early in the second quarter. Drummond later reached high to convert an alley-oop from Harris, too. Harris was solid as the primary playmaker alongside the Sixers’ second-unit trio of Drummond, Niang and Joe.
Tyrese Maxey (18 points, six assists) was deferential in the first quarter, passing up a couple of open jumpers. He then spent much of the second period watching from the perimeter as the majority of the Sixers’ offense went through Harris and Embiid. Moving forward, we imagine it would help the Sixers to give Maxey more pick-and-roll reps with Embiid. If those two are foundational players, it would make sense to regularly put them in actions together and encourage that duo’s development. A Maxey-Embiid pick-and-roll created a three-pointer with 11.9 seconds left in the first half when Maxey hit Embiid on the short roll and the big man kicked the ball out to Korkmaz in the corner.
Despite the relatively slow shooting start, Embiid accumulated his normal superstar numbers and took the game over beginning late in the second quarter. He’s exceeded 20 points in 17 consecutive games and has been the Sixers’ top scorer for every game during that streak.
No collapse on the big guy's watch
Once the Sixers took a 13-point lead in the second quarter, the logical question was whether they’d avoid the sort of mid-game letdown that burned them in Friday’s loss to the Clippers.
The team’s defense dropped a level to begin the second half. Korkmaz was beaten backdoor by McDermott, Joe fouled Murray on a fadeaway jumper, and the Sixers allowed the Spurs to play at a brisker pace.
Thanks to Embiid being Embiid and a decent scoring night by Korkmaz (17 points on 7-for-13 shooting), the Sixers stretched their lead to 15 points late in the third quarter and seemed to have a good shot at cruising to victory.
However, the non-Embiid minutes went worse than in the first half as it appeared the Sixers were hoping they could hold off the Spurs' push until the four-time All-Star returned for his final stint. Maxey and Harris stepped up to ensure the team just about pulled that off. Harris nailed two short mid-range shots, while Maxey made a lefty layup, a righty layup and a three-pointer. Still, the Spurs were down just five when Embiid checked back in with 6:39 to go.
Embiid was world-class in the final minutes and prevented the Sixers' general unsteadiness from costing them another game.
During his last stint, Embiid did the following: Drained two mid-range jumpers; pump faked into a layup; cut to save Maxey from trouble late in the shot clock and then threw down a dunk; tossed a tremendous one-handed dish to Korkmaz for a layup; made two foul shots to give the Sixers a 113-109 lead with 14.9 seconds left.
He of course wasn't perfect, but Embiid was fantastic when the Sixers needed him to be yet again.