The Philadelphia 76ers, despite the absence of James Harden (right foot tendon strain) managed to beat the Phoenix Suns 100-88 on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Joel Embiid led the way for the Sixers, finishing with 33 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. It was his first game back after missing the last three games with a non-COVID illness. Tobias Harris added 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. The Sixers were also without Danuel House Jr. due to a non-COVID illness.
The Suns were heavily favored in this game, but after a hot start both offensively and defensively, the Sixers took control early. Offensively, Harris carried the load in the first quarter, scoring 11 points in his first 11 minutes. This sparked the Sixers to have a constant 14-point lead throughout the first quarter. The Sixers would eventually stretch the lead out to 19, showing complete dominance at home. However, as most Sixers games go, there was a second half collapse.
The Suns managed to cut the lead down to just three points in the third quarter, led by Devin Booker. Even so, the Sixers never let the Suns take the lead, extending their lead back up to six points going into the fourth quarter. In the end, Booker’s 28 points weren’t enough to lead the Suns past the Sixers. Everytime they were getting close to the lead, Georges Niang would strike right back with a three-pointer. Niang finished with a season-high 21 points off the bench, going 7-for-10 from beyond the arc.
The Sixers now sit at 5-6 on the season. Their next game is on Thursday against the Atlanta Hawks. Here are three observations from the Sixers’ victory:
Embiid was dominant in his return from a three-game absence. While it may not have been his most efficient night, his presence made a huge impact on the game. For starters, he got to the free-throw line at will, going 16-for-16 from the charity stripe. At times, it seemed all his defenders could do was foul him. Jock Landale of the Suns played just seven minutes and committed five personal fouls.
With Embiid’s “slow start”, his impact on the team became very under-appreciated. If nothing else, he adds a 7-foot-2, 280 pound unit on the floor. Of course it helps that he’s capable of averaging 30 points per game, but his size alone makes a huge defensive impact. Paul Reed has been the best backup to Embiid thus far, but has not gotten nearly enough minutes this season. Embiid back in the lineup adds some much needed interior defense. De’Anthony Melton has been outstanding defensively this season, but he can only do so much. Due to his size, he is mainly a perimeter defender. The defensive duo of Melton and Embiid will prove to be very effective. The Sixers could have an elite defensive lineup if they add Matisse Thybulle into a lineup with them.
Embiid coming back from an illness and looking like he has not missed a game this season is exactly what the Sixers needed. He looked like his true MVP self despite the poor efficiency, leading the Sixers in a win over one of the best teams in the league.
Tyrese Maxey got off to a scorching hot start this season, averaging nearly 25 points per game through his first 10 games. Prior to the game against the Suns, Maxey was averaging 30 points per game over his last six games. That being said, Maxey won’t always be able to produce these numbers. He is typically a very efficient scorer, but his previous two games have not displayed that. With Harden out of the lineup for the next month, Maxey will need to take a step into becoming the second scoring option. So far this season, he has displayed that he is more than capable of doing so. However, he will have games where he does not look like an All-Star. Being only 23 years old, this is expected. However, it does mean that other players in the lineup have to step up to pull the rest of the weight that Maxey leaves behind. Fortunately for the Sixers, Harris and Niang did exactly that against the Suns.
As previously mentioned, Niang hit seven deep ball’s off the bench, amounting to all of his 21 points. Harris also scored 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting from the field. This is Harris’s second straight game of scoring 20-plus points after not having a 20-point game in his first nine games of the season. If players like Harris and Niang can continue to step up when needed, the Sixers will be well on their way to the playoffs.
While the Sixers did get off to their worst start in five years, this does not mean that they are a bad team by any means. The early absence of Embiid, and his slow start when he did play got the Sixers off to a 4-6 start through their first 10 games. Naturally, a lot of Sixers fans began to panic and already gave up on the season. Playing the 7-2 Suns didn’t make Sixers fans feel any more confident about the team. However, leaving Wells Fargo Center with a win over a top team had to boost the teams’ confidence.
They have a tough stretch of games coming up, especially with Harden out of the lineup. They looked like a complete team against the Suns, better than they have all year. Obviously there were some errors and the game was not perfect, but a solid win over a team like the Suns is just what the Sixers needed to get back on track.