Tuesday night’s game against the Warriors was a chance for the Sixers to make one final impression before the impending NBA trade deadline.
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They started brilliantly, building a 24-point lead, but their evening became complicated in the third quarter when the Warriors erased that advantage.
The Sixers' stars were stellar when it mattered most, though, and the team pulled out a 108-98 victory at Chase Center to move to 31-13.
Tobias Harris had a double-double in the first half and finished with 25 points on 9-for-18 shooting and 13 rebounds, while Tony Bradley was excellent in posting 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting and 11 rebounds. Ben Simmons recorded 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Neither Seth Curry (left ankle sprain) nor Steph Curry (tailbone contusion) were available. The Sixers' Curry “got some shots up” at the team's shootaround Tuesday and is “progressing,” head coach Doc Rivers said pregame. Joel Embiid (left knee bone bruise) remains out.
The trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. ET, and the Sixers will play the Lakers at 10 p.m. ET that night.
Here are observations on the Sixers' win over Golden State:
Simmons sets strong tone, Warriors storm back
Simmons had little problem driving into the paint early and scored six of the Sixers’ first nine points, all of them with his right hand. He gave the team an 18-7 lead with a steal and ensuing reverse dunk.
Later in the period, Simmons’ drive and kick to Furkan Korkmaz for a three-pointer put the Sixers up by 16 points.
A lot has to go right for a team to take such a substantial lead, including the Warriors shooting 0 for 6 from three-point range in the first, but Simmons was the game’s most impactful player in the opening half. Even late in the shot clock of possessions that didn’t appear to be going anywhere, he played with aggression and forced Golden State to respond to the threat of his drives.
The Sixers didn’t play with the same pace or purpose early in the third quarter, and they watched their lead dwindle as Golden State gained offensive rhythm and confidence. The Warriors eventually took the lead with 4:38 left in the third.
Embiid’s skill at stopping runs with low-post baskets and drawing free throws makes holding large leads easier. Regardless of Embiid’s availability, though, the Sixers should’ve been capable of holding a 24-point edge against a Warriors team without its top player.
To Harris and Simmons' credit, they guided the Sixers to a win after somewhat shaky play in crunch time Sunday night against the Knicks.
Harris, who at one point was shooting 4 for 11, pushed the Sixers across the finish line and ensured they avoided a bad loss.
Bradley a big bright spot
Bradley matched up against No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, who returned after a three-game absence because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Wiseman struggled early, missing five of his first six shots, in part because he missed open jumpers and in part because Bradley played well. Bradley picked up an emphatic block when he mirrored Wiseman in the post, anticipated the 19-year-old’s spin move back to his left hand and swatted away his attempt at the rim.
As he has since replacing Embiid in the starting lineup, Bradley focused on the fundamentals offensively and finished around the hoop. He’s made 29 of 36 field goals (80.6 percent) after the All-Star break.
The 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent after this season. Bradley isn’t taking jump shots despite saying before the season that he thought he could be a “stretch five,” but he possesses other useful tools and seemingly has room to improve over the next couple of years.
It’s clear where Sixers could improve
Shake Milton picked up where he left off after scoring 49 points over his last two games, notching eight in his first stint and using his superior size effectively on defenders like rookie Nico Mannion.
Nevertheless, with the Sixers’ all-bench lineup on the floor, the Warriors cut their deficit down to 13 points. Milton was the only Sixer able to provide any offense, with Matisse Thybulle and Mike Scott each missing a pair of threes.
Milton’s shots weren’t falling in the third quarter, and his teammates were again not very helpful. Milton had 13 of the Sixers’ 20 bench points in the game. Thybulle, Scott and Dwight Howard combined for two points on 0-for-11 shooting. Tyrese Maxey chipped in five points on 2-for-3 shooting in 11 minutes.
We knew well before Tuesday night that the Sixers could benefit from adding perimeter players who contribute to smooth, efficient half-court offense. There are of course many players who might fall under that umbrella, among them starting-caliber point guards, backup ball handlers and wing shooters.
Shortly before tip-off, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Sixers have shown interest in guards Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, Lonzo Ball and George Hill. It’s smart to consider all of those names.
The Sixers will still be able to use most of their taxpayer mid-level exception in the buyout market. However, we’ll learn plenty over the next couple of days about the team and its chances of winning a championship this season. Though the initial version of the 2020-21 Sixers has been very good, there’s ample reason for president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to explore the possibilities and, if he deems it prudent, make moves.