The Sixers were facing an uphill battle without their "crown jewel" and going up against a good Boston team.
With news that Joel Embiid will miss time, the Sixers' two big offseason acquisitions rose to the occasion and led the team to a win over the rival Celtics, 109-98, Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The win improves the Sixers to an NBA-best 18-2 at home and 25-14 overall. Boston has now lost three straight.
The Sixers head back out on the road to take on Luka Doncic and the Mavericks Saturday night (8:30 p.m./NBCSP).
Here are observations from the win:
J-Rich running the show
The game started with Josh Richardson and Al Horford running a pick-and-roll. Richardson hit a jumper off it and it set the tone for the game.
The idea seems to be for Ben Simmons to push the ball up the floor and if he doesn't have anything, get the ball to Richardson to execute a play. Brett Brown has mentioned that he's calling plays more than he ever has in his coaching career. Richardson is taking advantage of running the show as he was the high man for the game with 15 points at the half. His aggressiveness led to him being 10 of 10 from the line.
When Richardson was on the bench, the offense looked stagnant. To start the fourth quarter, Richardson led a lineup of mostly reserves and took the game over. Brown has consistently remarked that Richardson is the "mortar" that holds the starting unit together. That was evident Thursday as Richardson poured in a team-high 29 points (9 of 16) and dished out seven assists.
Carrying the scoring load
Both Simmons and Tobias Harris were aggressive with Embiid out. It was a mixed bag.
They each took seven shots from the field in the first half, with Simmons making four and Harris just two. The concerning numbers for Simmons were that he had just one assist and two turnovers at halftime. To Simmons' credit, he was putting pressure on Boston's defense and looking to get to the rim all night. He had 19 points (9 of 15) along with nine rebounds and three assists.
Harris was able to get himself a few decent looks at the basket but came up short on a couple drives. He didn't have an efficient night, but this is how he has to play with Embiid out. He missed several looks that he normally makes, going 7 of 17 for 16 points.
The plan at center
Horford looked good against his former team. The mobility that seems to have kind of come and gone this season was there Thursday. He was solid in switches on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and was a big part of the reason the Sixers' pick-and-roll defense improved as the game went on. Offensively, you got to see the versatile skillset he possesses as he recorded 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He also had two blocks.
Given the circumstances and the opponent, this was one of his better games as a Sixer.
Brown threw an interesting wrinkle in his rotation when Horford came out. He used Simmons as a backup five when Horford went to the bench. It was a bit of an odd move given that Boston was using the plodding Enes Kanter and not a more mobile center like Daniel Theis at the time. Simmons held his own, but it probably made more sense to just go to a traditional big there.
When Simmons went to the bench, Brown went to two-player Norvel Pelle. Give credit to Pelle, he was ready for his number to be called. The super bouncy center blocked a Gordon Hayward fadeaway into the seats and then challenged and forced a miss on a Brown drive. Pelle then caught lob on the ensuing offensive possession.
Pelle earned the backup center minutes in the second half and rewarded Brown by protecting the rim extremely well and frustrating Kanter. When Pelle left the floor in the fourth, he got a standing ovation from the crowd. Whenever Pelle has gotten his chances, he's been active. He gave the Sixers a spark Thursday with six points, four rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes.
Early on, there seemed to be a little miscommunication which led to open looks - and Boston wasn't missing. The Celtics were 6 of 9 from three in the first quarter and built a lead as big 15 in the second quarter.
Then Brown changed up his coverages a little bit, choosing to be more aggressive on pick-and-rolls. Blitzing, corralling and switching more in those situations led to more contested shots and better overall defensive possessions. They were able to get the lead down to seven at the half.
The Sixers ramped up the intensity in the second half defensively and it helped spark their transition offense. They jumped out to an 11-2 run out of the locker room and took momentum back. It's fair to note that Boston was coming off a back-to-back. Tired legs could've been a factor, but the Sixers' rotations and help defense were much better.
The latest on Embiid
Embiid was diagnosed with a torn radial collateral ligament of the fourth metacarpal on his left hand. He will have surgery Friday in New York and will be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks.
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