3 observations after Harris leaves with injury in Sixers’ win over Mavs originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers improved to 14-2 at Wells Fargo Center and 22-11 overall Thursday night, but they saw a key piece leave early in their 111-97 win over the Mavericks.
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Tobias Harris exited the game in the third quarter. The 28-year-old was diagnosed with a right knee contusion, the Sixers announced, and did not return.
Harris, who missed three games earlier in the year because of health and safety protocols, is clearly an important part of the Sixers’ big-picture plans as a late-game scoring option besides Embiid. He entered Thursday’s game with averages of 20.7 points on 61.3 percent true shooting, 7.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
Durability has been a hallmark for Harris, who played 72 of 73 regular-season games last year and appeared in all 82 games during the 2016-17 and 2018-19 seasons.
Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 23 points on 5-for-20 shooting and had nine rebounds and four assists. Ben Simmons posted 15 points and seven assists. He was also instrumental in holding Luka Doncic to 19 points on 6-for-13 shooting and four assists.
The Sixers’ next game is Saturday night against the Cavs. Here are observations on their win over Dallas:
Embiid vs. an old friend — for a half
With Kristaps Porzingis out because of lower back tightness, Boban Marjanovic started his first game of the season. He caught up with some old friends pregame, as did former Sixers Josh Richardson and Trey Burke.
Marjanovic conceded a substantial edge in agility, meaning Embiid could comfortably take just about any jump shot he wanted. His shooting struggles from the Toronto mini-series lingered, though, as he missed his first four mid-range attempts and six of his first seven shots overall.
Despite that, the Sixers fared well against Dallas’ big starting lineup, earning an 11-5 lead. Nobody besides Doncic seemed to pose a serious challenge to the Sixers’ defense, and Simmons’ defensive talent meant it wasn’t necessary to send risky double teams.
Embiid was bound to find a groove eventually, and he did in the second quarter. Both Embiid and Simmons were great on both ends of the floor as the Sixers closed the second period on a big run to take a 16-point lead into intermission.
Dallas scrapped its large lineup in the second half, using James Johnson and sitting Marjanovic, and that adjustment was mostly effective in limiting Embiid. More frequent double teams helped the Mavs, too. While plenty of Embiid’s misses were looks he’d typically expect to make, Maxi Kleber and Johnson were better able to contest Embiid’s shots and play bothersome defense than the 7-foot-4 Marjanovic.
Simmons’ impressive defense on another star
Simmons was very strong against Doncic, at times guarding him tightly near half court and disrupting his usually brilliant pick-and-roll game while avoiding fouls. Head coach Doc Rivers overturned what was initially called Simmons’ first foul with a rare challenge in the second quarter as replays showed Simmons had stripped Doncic cleanly. Doncic’s skills and savvy tend to enable him to get where he wants, but that didn’t happen because of Simmons.
Any matchup vs. a star is a chance for Simmons to work toward his stated goal of winning Defensive Player of the Year, and he helped his case Thursday. A steal on an unsuspecting Willie Cauley-Stein and ensuing pass to Embiid for a fast-break dunk was the highlight of the game. Simmons is athletic, versatile, prideful, instinctive and 6-foot-10. Not a bad blend of attributes for a defender.
Simmons actually wasn’t the team leader in steals. That was Seth Curry, who picked up three and had a good night overall with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting. The player he was traded to Philadelphia for (along with the 36th pick), Richardson, had 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting and six rebounds in his return to Wells Fargo Center.
Second unit gets the job done
The Sixers turned to an all-bench unit of Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott and Dwight Howard at the end of the first period. Isaiah Joe later briefly replaced Thybulle when the second-year wing was whistled twice for fouling Dallas jump shooters.
Rivers had recently admitted his hesitance to use such lineups, noting it was necessary to have Embiid, Simmons or Harris on the floor at all times, but perhaps he felt his bench had a better chance to buy him a few passable minutes with Milton healthy again and Korkmaz confident after his 19-point game Tuesday.
The second unit ultimately held its own, even though the offense wasn’t fluid and there were clear defensive vulnerabilities. Howard converted an and-one following an offensive rebound and did it again shortly after off a nice pick-and-roll dish by Milton.
When Milton isn’t handling the ball and dictating the action, the Sixers’ bench has often looked lost offensively. Milton’s shots aren’t yet dropping the way he’s used to, either — he went 4 for 13 Thursday — which makes life tougher for the Sixers. Howard scored 14 of the bench’s 46 points against the Mavs. Scott knocked down a pair of three-pointers and was solid as Harris’ second-half replacement.