3 Observations: Sixers Downed by Hot Shooting From LaVine, Bulls

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers fell to the Chicago Bulls 126-112 on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. They were victim to an incredible performance from Zach LaVine, who scored 41 points on 14-of-19 shooting from the field and 11-of-13 from 3-point range.

The Sixers were without Joel Embiid, who missed his second consecutive game due to left foot soreness. Tyrese Maxey finished with 26 points and six assists. Tobias Harris added in 22 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulls shot a highly efficient 57.1% from the field. Nikola Vucevic feasted on Embiid’s absence, recording a triple-double with 19 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. Chicago was without Lonzo Ball (left knee surgery), Tony Bradley (non-COVID illness), Alex Caruso (right ankle sprain) and Javonte Green (right knee soreness).

The Sixers now sit at 23-15 on the season. Their next matchup is on Sunday afternoon against the Detroit Pistons. Here are three observations from the loss:

Maxey starting to regain his footing

Maxey has been slowly working his way back into form following a six-week absence with a foot injury. His performance against the Bulls was easily his best game since returning from injury. He opened up the game by knocking down a 3-pointer in transition. He would go on to score eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the opening quarter. The Sixers as a team opened up the game red hot from beyond the arc, connecting on five of their first eight attempts.

Maxey put together an incredibly efficient first half, scoring 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field to go with four assists. He played aggressively, looking to score while also generally making the correct reads as a passer, totaling four assists in the first half. His crisp skip pass to Shake Milton for a corner 3-pointer was an especially nice read.

He continued his strong play into the second half, knocking down a pair of triples while attempting to keep the Sixers in the game. Getting Maxey back to the level he was at pre-injury is by far the biggest takeaway from this game against the Bulls.

While Maxey was heating up, James Harden’s shooting was ice cold. He could not buy a bucket, shooting 4-of-17 from the field and 3-of-9 from beyond the arc. However, he did manage to find multiple other ways to put his imprint on the game. He finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists and a steal.

More small-ball from the Sixers

With Embiid again out of the lineup, the Sixers moved P.J. Tucker to the center position in the starting lineup. He opened up the game with the difficult task of defending Vucevic, who has a five-inch height advantage over him. Tucker plays a physical style of basketball, but he was clearly outmatched early on. Vucevic backed him down with ease before hitting a turnaround hook shot for his first points of the game with 9:31 remaining in the first quarter. A few possessions later, Vucevic connected on another hook shot over Tucker.

Tucker struggled to contain Vucevic, who went into halftime with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Tucker’s lack of offensive production and overall timidity, with him often passing up on open shots, on that end of the floor also did not help things. Being a non-factor on offense also allows other teams to essentially play 5-on-4 basketball. The Sixers on paper should be able to effectively run a small-ball lineup with Tucker at center. However, the combination of his defensive struggles against Vucevic and his inability to make any sort of impact offensively should put that thought to rest.

Montrezl Harrell followed up his strong performance against the Pacers with another good game. He was aggressive offensively, getting into rhythm in the second quarter. His prior connection with Harden from their days together on the Houston Rockets was evident. They ran multiple successful pick-and-rolls as Harrell took advantage of Chicago having to worry about defending Harden on the drive. He finished with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go with four rebounds. His performance in the last two games serve as a reminder of the efficient offense he is capable of.

However, the Bulls took advantage of when Harrell was on the floor. Despite his strong offensive performance, he finished as a minus-14 in 23 minutes off the bench. He had a strong start defensively, taking a charge in the second quarter. Outside of that, his inside defense was non-existent. Still, he presents as a better option than Tucker on most nights, at least until Tucker starts providing something offensively.

Sixers’ defense gets picked apart

The Sixers were up 44-31 over the Bulls with 7:07 remaining in the second quarter. Their offense was in rhythm, and it was shaping up to be a solid night in Philadelphia. However, things fell apart for the Sixers after that point. The shots stopped falling for the Sixers, all the while the Bulls’ top players started producing on the floor. LaVine, in a sign of what was to come, scored 10 points on multiple 3-pointers and some crafty finishes around the rim. The Bulls outscored the Sixers 28-11 in the remainder of the first half and went into halftime with a 59-55 lead.

Things only continued to go downhill for the Sixers defensively. Patrick Williams, after going scoreless in the first half, scored 16 points in the third quarter alone. LaVine also scored 19 points in the third quarter as he drilled one 3-pointer after another. The Sixers had no answer for LaVine’s outside shooting. Despite that, the Sixers were down just three points midway through the third quarter. However, the Bulls, powered by a trio of 3-pointers from LaVine and a few buckets from both Williams and Vucevic, extended their lead to 15 points by the end of the quarter. Between the second and third quarters, the Sixers gave up 74 points to the Bulls.

The Sixers defense was picked apart in all facets. Despite a brutal defensive performance, the Sixers managed to stay close to striking range for much of the second half. They were one good defensive stretch away from potentially being able to make the game incredibly close. A Tobias Harris 3-pointer cut the deficit to eight points with five minutes remaining. However, the Sixers could not halt the Bulls’ red hot shooting as they pulled away in the final minutes.

The Bulls finished the game shooting 58.8% from 3-point range. For the second time in a week, the Sixers allowed a player (LaVine for the Bulls and McCollum for the Pelicans) to make 11 3-pointers against them. Some of that might be luck, but it has become clear the Sixers have a major weakness defending the perimeter.