3 observations after Sixers blow by Heat thanks to reinforcements originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers gladly expanded their list of available players Thursday night, welcoming Tobias Harris, Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle back into the rotation after they’d missed the past three games because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
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That trio helped the Sixers to another win over the Heat, a 125-108 decision at Wells Fargo Center. Milton had 31 points and seven assists in 27 minutes and Harris posted 18 points. Though Thybulle shot just 2 for 7, he picked up four steals and a block
Miami had only eight players again, with eight still sidelined for health and safety reasons.
The 9-4 Sixers next play the Grizzlies on Saturday night. Here are observations on their win Thursday over Miami:
Like they never left
If one was not aware of the context, there were no apparent signs that Harris, Milton and Thybulle had been unable to practice with the team until Thursday’s morning shootaround.
Harris came up short on his first jumper but made his next three field goals. Milton conducted the offense well as the second-unit lead ball handler, playing at a controlled pace in the pick-and-roll and putting Miami’s defense in suboptimal positions. He drew fouls, found rollers and picked out shooters. At the end of the opening period, Milton made an off-balance quasi-heave under tight pressure, not the first time this season he’s converted a difficult shot as a quarter wound down.
Milton totaled 43 points on 14-for-22 shooting in the two games prior to this recent absence, and there was certainly nothing to suggest the time away stunted his development.
Thybulle fouled Tyler Herro on a three-point attempt early in his first stint, though he was sharp from that point on defensively. His block on Heat big man Precious Achiuwa after falling well behind the play on a Herro-Achiuwa pick-and-roll was a nice display of the 23-year-old’s high-level closing speed, instincts and knack for disruption.
Even with three important players back, head coach Doc Rivers kept guard Isaiah Joe in his rotation, calling his defensive performance in Tuesday’s win “spectacular."
The rookie stuffed a Herro jumper and was again competitive and attentive defensively. One quality Rivers likes with Joe on the other end of the floor is his let-it-fly mindset.
“Of course I probably won’t have the green light I had at (Arkansas), but the team is bringing me on for a reason and that’s to shoot the ball,” Joe said before the season. “They’re not going to bring a shooter on a team to not shoot the ball. That’s what I’m going to do. If they tell me otherwise, then I have to cater to that. But coming on, I really believe that they are getting me for shooting ability, and so I’ve got to do that to the best of my ability.”
Joe hasn’t been told otherwise and he drained four threes Thursday night, the third consecutive game he's done so.
The Maxey-Simmons combination
A notable contrast: Ben Simmons’ first basket came with 4:46 remaining in the second quarter, while Tyrese Maxey’s first came with 1:28 left in the first half after a 6-for-6 start.
Simmons, who had a triple-double with 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, started alongside Maxey (15 points on 6-for-10 shooting) for a second consecutive game and continued to have his greatest impact offensively by driving and kicking out to shooters. Miami sagged off of him when he brought the ball up the floor and double teamed him on several occasions when he received it in the elbow or short corner regions, an approach that gave Simmons some trouble. The Australian had more success after halftime, pushing the pace effectively and slamming home a put-back dunk in the third quarter.
In the long term, the Sixers will need dependable solutions when opponents give Simmons an exaggerated amount of space, and perhaps one will sometimes be using him in the high post and searching for high-low actions with Embiid. That concept has looked promising at times, and Simmons obviously has experience from last year as a facilitator at the elbow. The Sixers’ best bet when Simmons handles the ball still seems to be eschewing half-court offense entirely and letting him be creative and explosive in transition.
Simmons missed a wide-open corner three in the middle of the second period, his third long-range attempt this season. It was a good look and clearly the right shot to take.
There will inevitably be heightened scrutiny of Simmons, his willingness to shoot and whether he improves offensively after multiple reports that the Sixers included him in James Harden trade discussions and then did not land the eight-time All-Star. Harden is now officially a member of the Nets and could make his Brooklyn debut Saturday. The Sixers are scheduled to play the Nets at Wells Fargo Center on Feb. 6.
Rivers was asked before the game whether he was relieved that the Harden drama has been resolved.
“I don’t know if I’m relieved,” he said. “I’ll just keep saying it, and I said it before, I like our team. I like the day after the trade and all that stuff that we are the same team. I think that’s the best way to answer that.”
Maxey’s offensive variety stood out Thursday as he scored on fast-break dunks, pull-up mid-range jumpers and catch-and-shoot threes. He’s the Sixer who’s boosted his stock on the court the most since Seth Curry tested positive for COVID-19 a week ago.
MVP-level Embiid not needed
Joel Embiid didn’t replicate Tuesday’s 45-point effort, and the Sixers didn’t require anything similar. Given Miami was still missing Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, it wouldn’t be accurate to call the Sixers' blowing out the Heat without a world-class Embid performance incredibly encouraging. Against a badly shorthanded opponent, the Sixers took care of business.
That said, it’s nice for the Sixers that Embiid only had to play 24 minutes after going 39 Tuesday, especially with a road back-to-back looming Saturday and Sunday against the Grizzlies and Thunder, respectively.
Embiid has played 35 or more minutes in five games this season and 27 or fewer in four. When there have been opportunities for in-game load management, Rivers has been happy to take them.