Instant Observations: Another Dominant Embiid Performance Not Enough as Shorthanded Sixers Fall to Warriors

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) dribbles the basketball against the Golden State Warriors during the first quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid’s superhuman performance looked for a while like it would be enough to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to the win. However, in the end, it did not prove to be enough. The shorthanded Sixers fell to the Golden State Warriors 120-112 at the Chase Center on Friday night.

Embiid led the Sixers with 46 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals. Tobias Harris added 23 points and six rebounds while shooting 10-of-12 from the field. The Sixers shot just 8-of-29 from 3-point range.

The Sixers were heavily shorthanded against the Warriors. James Harden missed his second consecutive game with left Achilles soreness. Head coach Doc Rivers told reporters before the game there is optimism Harden will return to the court before the end of the road trip. The team being cautious about Harden’s health is the right move. Jalen McDaniels remained out with right hip soreness. Danuel House Jr. was a late scratch due to right shoulder soreness.

The Warriors were led by 33 points off the bench from Jordan Poole. Stephen Curry finished with 29 points and eight rebounds. Golden State was without Andrew Wiggins (personal reasons), Gary Payton II (right adductor soreness), Andre Iguodala (left wrist surgery) and Ryan Rollins (right foot surgery).

The Sixers continue their West Coast road trip with a matchup against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday. Here are instant observations from the loss:

– With each passing game, Embiid continues to impress with his ability to impact the game in multiple areas. Everyone knows about his scoring ability, but he also is an above average passer. He is able to showcase that ability more in the games where Harden is out of the lineup. Against the Warriors, his passing and decision making was superb. He dished out five assists in the first half, and they came in a variety of ways. On one play, he read the floor out of the triple-threat position and whipped the ball over to Maxey for a 3-pointer. Another one of his assists came on a perfect bounce pass to Harris for a layup in transition.

In terms of his scoring ability, he began the game a bit too trigger happy from beyond the arc. However, things started clicking for him once the Warriors decided to go small midway through the first quarter. He took advantage, carving them up and scoring in the paint at will. Draymond Green attempted to defend Embiid in the post and was completely bullied by the big fella. Embiid easily backed him down before turning around and making the layup. He scored 10 points against the Warriors’ smaller lineup in the final 5:43 of the opening quarter.

Embiid put the 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney in the torture chamber throughout the game. He kept him guessing, going deep into his bag of tricks while effectively playing out of the mid-range area. At times, he cooked with turnaround jumpers in the post. Depending on the look the Warriors were giving him, he would face up around the free-throw line and attack towards the basket. The Warriors even attempted to triple-team Embiid in the post at one point in the third quarter. The play resulted in a foul and pair of free throws for Embiid. The Warriors had no answer for Embiid, who punished them all night long.

– The Warriors possess two of the best outside shooters in the league, so coming into the game with a defensive strategy centered around taking that away makes sense. However, the Sixers were bit early on defensively, overplaying the 3-point line and getting beat inside the paint. Ten of the Warriors’ first 13 points came from inside the paint. Curry had some success on back cuts, scoring three layups while being very active off the ball. De’Anthony Melton and Tyrese Maxey consistently got beat on off-ball cuts throughout the first half.

Melton did recover to have a relatively good night defensively. Without looking desperate and overcommitting, he consistently manages to be a pest while grabbing a few steals. He had a poor shooting night, but still impacted the game. He finished with eight points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals.

The Sixers did briefly clean things up defensively midway through the first quarter. They started closing off the passing lanes, resulting in some turnovers. P.J. Tucker provided his usual level of toughness and physicality, battling inside and recording two steals in the first quarter and change. Tucker continues to make a big impact defensively, especially over the last few weeks.

– When Harris is in rhythm and getting to his spots, it is beautiful to watch. Against the Warriors, he was clicking on all cylinders offensively. Most of his damage came either on drives to the basket or when hunting mismatches. Against a smaller team such as the Warriors, there was not a shortage of mismatches for him to go after. Klay Thompson is a good defender, but Harris took him to the shed on more than one occasion in this game. On the play below, he began with the ball in the corner before posting up Thompson, getting to the middle of the floor and connecting on a fadeaway jumper.

Harris’ secondary scoring was huge, especially on a night where the Sixers were playing without Harden. He regained his form from earlier in the season, and it could not have come at a better time. Having Harris back to scoring at an efficient clip makes the Sixers’ offense that much more difficult to slow down.

– Harris was not the only player to provide a much-needed scoring burst alongside Embiid. Maxey excelled primarily as a floor spacer against the Warriors. He got off to a bit of a slow start, but gradually started getting more comfortable. He finished with 21 points while shooting 4-of-8 from long distance.

However, Maxey did not have a good night on the defensive end. The Warriors attacked him throughout the second half. Poole consistently looked to go after Maxey both on the perimeter and on drives to the basket. Poole’s hot stretch in the second half helped keep the Warriors in the game until Curry and Thompson started to heat up. Maxey needs to be more engaged defensively, especially in the postseason. This game served as a reminder that the Sixers’ perimeter defense from their starting guards can be a major liability.

– For as good a night as Embiid had, the Sixers had no solution for the minutes when he was on the bench. Paul Reed was on the floor at the beginning of the second quarter, but only played two minutes before Rivers elected to go to a small-ball lineup. The Warriors’ outside shooting began to heat up and the Sixers’ offense had zero traction. The Sixers were outscored 18-7 in a 5:47 stretch with Embiid on the bench to begin the second quarter.

The results of the non-Embiid minutes in the second half went just as poorly. The Sixers built up an 88-79 lead heading into the final frame, but the non-Embiid minutes continued to kill them. They were outscored 10-5 in the first 3:34 of the fourth quarter. Rivers kept Reed on the floor for the entirety of this stretch, but it did not have any effect.

Embiid finished as a plus-13 in a game the Sixers lost by eight points. Not having Harden to provide some punch to the non-Embiid lineups clearly hurt the Sixers. Relying on Maxey, Melton or Shake Milton to provide enough scoring to anchor those units is not feasible. Having Maxey and Harris on the floor together for the non-Embiid minutes should have been a necessity. However, Rivers mismanaged the rotations against the Warriors.

– The Sixers being shorthanded in this game came back to cost them dearly, especially in the fourth quarter. The power forward position was like a black hole for the Sixers. Tucker could not buy a bucket, missing one open corner 3-pointer after another. The Warriors felt comfortable leaving Tucker alone out there and he failed to make them pay. With McDaniels out, the other alternative was Georges Niang. He was not hitting his shots while also getting consistently burnt both defensively and on the glass.

The Warriors effectively blitzed Embiid late in the fourth quarter, forcing the ball out of his hands. The combination of Harden’s absence and not receiving any production from Tucker or Niang was too much to overcome. Maxey slowed down, missing his last five shots of the game. In the end, the Sixers were not able to overcome being shorthanded.