Philadelphia 76ers

Sixers Vs. Pelicans: Joel Embiid Goes for 42 Points and Sixers Overcome Poor Start

The Sixers started badly Tuesday night but rode Joel Embiid's 42 points to a 117-107 win at Wells Fargo Center over the Pelicans.

3 observations after Embiid goes for 42, Sixers overcome poor start originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Though it wasn’t as routine as the final score suggests, the Sixers improved to 28-19 on Tuesday night with a 117-107 victory over the undermanned Pelicans. 

Joel Embiid scored 42 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots, continuing an incredibly consistent stretch of dominance. 

Tobias Harris notched 33 points and 11 boards. 

Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker posted 31 points and center Willy Hernangomez had a career-high 29.

The 18-29 Pelicans did not resemble their usual selves with Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Devonte’ Graham and Jonas Valanciunas among the New Orleans players out with injuries.

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Seth Curry (left ankle soreness), Danny Green (right hip pain) and Shake Milton (back contusion) were still sidelined for the Sixers. 

Game 2 of the Sixers’ five-game homestand will be Thursday night against the Lakers. Here are observations on their win over the Pelicans:

A poor first half across the board 

Embiid scored the Sixers’ first five points on a pull-up baseline jumper, put-back lay-up and technical free throw. The team, however, started sluggishly.

New Orleans took an 18-10 lead, in part because the Sixers’ transition defense and overall pace were lacking. Many Sixers possessions took a while to get rolling and didn’t end until the dying seconds of the shot clock. The Pelicans scored 14 fast-break points in the first half and the Sixers didn’t manage any. 

Hernangomez’s 13 first-period points were a major factor, too. A top-of-the-key three-pointer from Hernangomez, who’d only tried three long balls this season before Tuesday, brought back (recent) memories of Mo Bamba’s career night.

A bench-heavy lineup that included Isaiah Joe, Charlie Brown Jr., Georges Niang and Andre Drummond did not help matters. The Sixers played tentative half-court offense and missed many of the open threes they did generate, beginning 3 for 13 from long range. Gary Clark, who spent time with the Sixers last season, put the Pelicans up 33-23 with a triple early in the second quarter. 

One play late in the second period proved that the Sixers’ first half could not have gone much worse. As everyone expected, Embiid beat Jose Alvarado, who’s generously listed at 6 feet, on a jump ball. New Orleans came out with possession, though, and Hernangomez sprinted down the floor for an and-one layup.

Even against shorthanded opponents, substandard energy and focus tend to be costly in the NBA. That was the case Tuesday as the Sixers found themselves down by eight points at halftime. 

Thybulle back, not yet his best 

Matisse Thybulle played Tuesday for the first time since spraining his right shoulder on Jan. 14. He started and had three points on 1-for-5 shooting, four rebounds and two steals. 

It’s excellent for the Sixers that Thybulle is available again, even though he didn’t have his usual offense-wrecking impact against New Orleans. He was the primary defender on Alexander-Walker, who looked far more comfortable firing jumpers than the average Thybulle opponent. 

The Sixers have not been good at forcing turnovers this season without Ben Simmons. Thybulle’s return should benefit the team in that area — he picked up a steal and a block early in the third quarter — but it still stands out as a weaknesses relative to last season. The Pelicans only committed two giveaways in the first half. Entering the game, the Sixers were 15th in defensive turnover percentage after ranking third last season, per Cleaning the Glass.

Thybulle also wasn’t his sharpest offensively. On one play in the first quarter, he wasn’t where Tyrese Maxey wanted him to begin an action. He missed a wide-open transition three-pointer later in the period.

Still all about the big guy 

Harris’ 6-for-7 start from the floor kept the Sixers close despite all of their first-half issues. His efficient scoring was important given how badly Harris' teammates besides Embiid struggled to hit shots. 

Asked about his defensive approach against Embiid before the game, Pelicans head coach Willie Green joked that the key was not letting the big man catch the ball. There was lots of truth within the humor.

Embiid led the Sixers’ charge in the third quarter mainly by drawing free throws and doing damage inside. He gave the Sixers a 66-64 edge by anticipating a double team, directing Harris to the desired floor spot and assisting him on a three. Embiid had two emphatic blocks in the third, too.

Harris was aggressive during his time alongside second-unit players in the second half. That enabled the Sixers to hold a two-point lead when Embiid checked in for his final stretch.

After drilling a mid-range jumper to stretch the Sixers' advantage to seven, Embiid gestured to the crowd as if to say, "That's what you came to see, right?" He's now recorded at least 38 points in four consecutive games and been the team's leading scorer in 18 straight. We'd call that decent production.

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