3 Observations: Embiid’s Season-High 42 Points Propels Sixers to Win Over Hawks

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Atlanta Hawks 121-109 on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. Joel Embiid had a monster night, helping the Sixers move to 6-7 on the season.

Embiid finished the game with a season-high 42 points on 14-of-25 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. Tyrese Maxey added in 26 points and nine assists.

The Sixers shot the ball 55.7% from the field and put up their biggest point total of the season. They were without James Harden (right foot tendon strain) and De’Anthony Melton (back stiffness).

The Hawks, in the losing effort, were led by Trae Young’s 27 points and 11 assists. Clint Capela added in 14 points and 15 rebounds. Dejounte Murray finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

The Sixers next take on the Utah Jazz on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. Here are three observations from the win.

Embiid’s strong night offensively

The Sixers offense, with Harden out of the lineup, continued to run through Embiid. The big fella scored the team’s first points of the game, knocking down a jumper from the elbow. A few minutes later, he again drilled a shot from the elbow. The Hawks opened up the game seemingly being alright with Embiid taking those mid-range jumpers. Embiid was locked in and took advantage, scoring the Sixers’ first 10 points of the game on perfect 4-of-4 shooting (2-of-2 from the free-throw line).

The action in the first quarter was very physical, as evidenced by a hard John Collins foul on Embiid as the two were fighting for rebounding position. The Sixers did a solid job getting to the free-throw line early on, shooting 9-of-10 from the charity stripe in the first quarter. Atlanta big man Clint Capela picked up his second foul with 3:44 remaining in the opening quarter. With Onyeka Okongwu out due to personal reasons, the Hawks went to Frank Kaminsky for the backup center minutes. Embiid immediately went to work on Kaminsky, driving into the post and spinning before drilling a jumper.

Embiid had a quiet second quarter, although he ended it on a positive with a turnaround jumper out of the post. He led all scorers with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting heading into halftime.

Embiid continued to dominate coming out of halftime, drawing a foul on Capela in the first possession of the second half. He scored 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting (6-of-7 from the free-throw line) in the third quarter.

The Sixers had a good grip on the game for much of the night, but Atlanta did not go down without a fight. After having at one point a 27-point lead, the Sixers went into the fourth quarter with just a 99-85 lead. The Hawks managed to stick around in the fourth quarter, with the game being as close as 113-107 after an AJ Griffin three-pointer. The Sixers responded by Embiid drawing a foul and knocking down both free throws. The killing blow then came on a Matisse Thybulle three-pointer that put the Sixers up 118-107 with 1:39 remaining.

Embiid successfully put his imprint on the game throughout the night. He dominated offensively against Atlanta, getting to his spots with relative ease and drawing a ton of fouls. He played the entirety of the final 15 minutes of action, and the Sixers wound up needing all of his production in order to defeat a feisty Hawks team.

Despite Embiid’s strong night, the game still came down to the final minutes in large part to the Sixers’ struggles on the glass. Atlanta out-rebounded the Sixers 43-31, including a 12-2 advantage on the offensive glass that led to 11 second-chance points. The Hawks are a strong rebounding team, but the Sixers still need to make sure they do a better job keeping the opposition off the offensive glass.

Maxey breaks out of funk

One of the reasons the Sixers’ offense has been struggling mightily since Harden’s injury was that Maxey went ice cold. It was only a matter of time until Maxey broke out of his funk, and that time was now.

Maxey’s playmaking was smooth early on, dishing an assist on three of the team’s first four baskets of the game. He continued to develop his two-man game with Embiid. Their connection is something the team should look to utilize a lot more moving forward.

The 22-year-old then began to heat up as a scorer in the second quarter. He knocked down a crafty reverse layup midway through the second quarter. A few minutes later, he snatched an inbounds pass before stepping into a pull-up three-pointer that gave the Sixers a 53-35 lead with 6:36 remaining in the second frame. Nine of Maxey’s points came in the second quarter.

Maxey opened up the third quarter on a roll as well, scoring four points and dishing an alley-oop to Embiid. After looking lost at times, it was good to see Maxey get back to playing with confidence. He consistently looked to attack the basket and had a lot of success around the rim.

The Sixers also received a strong performance from Tobias Harris. He aggressively attacked mismatches, finishing around the rim over or through smaller defenders multiple times. He was also active both defensively and on the glass, recording six rebounds and two steals. Overall, he finished the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting.

Bench puts together performance to build off of

The Sixers have received mostly uneven performances from the second unit so far this season. The bench stepped up in a big way against the Hawks. Danuel House Jr. entered the game with 5:05 remaining in the first quarter. He immediately recorded a steal and knocked down a three-pointer. It was one of his more active performances. He also cut to the basket for a dunk off a pass from Embiid in the final few minutes of the first quarter.

Head coach Doc Rivers went with a lineup with both Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz on the floor together in the final minutes of the first quarter. Milton got a nice finger-roll layup to go, but Korkmaz was the true headliner at the end of the first quarter. He attacked the basket, finishing at the rim with both a reverse layup and a pair of finger-roll layups. When he is in rhythm, he has an excellent ball fake that he uses to create space on drives to the basket.

Korkmaz scored seven points on 3-of-3 shooting in four minutes off the bench. Unfortunately, he injured his knee on a drive to the basket early in the second quarter. He was later ruled out for the remainder of the game.

The Sixers’ bench scored 18 points in the first half, nearly matching their league-worst 23.9 bench points per game this season. Milton continued the team’s good bench production into the second half. He checked back into the game with 7:23 remaining in the third quarter. Within the next few possessions, he hit a layup and a dunk as Embiid found him on a cut to the basket. Milton finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with two rebounds and three assists. If he can earn consistent minutes, that would be huge for the Sixers as they look for more playmakers while Harden is out of the lineup.

Georges Niang had a quiet night outside of connecting on a four-point play. That play was crucial in helping the Sixers break out of an Atlanta run at the end of the third quarter. He totaled just four points and two assists, although he did add in two blocks in 14 minutes.

The Sixers’ bench performance was not perfect by any stretch. The team still struggled in the minutes when Embiid was off the floor. Paul Reed received the backup center minutes, recording one rebound and four fouls in eight minutes. However, there were many positives to build off of in the coming stretch of games.