Instant Observations: Sixers Downed by Hot Shooting Mavericks

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) shoots past Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (2) and Dallas Mavericks guard Josh Green (8) during the second half at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers came up short on the second half of their back-to-back, falling to the Dallas Mavericks 133-126.

The Sixers played one of their worst defensive games of the season. The duo of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined to score 82 points on 28-of-44 shooting from the field and 13-of-21 shooting from 3-point range. The Mavericks shot 54.9% from the field and 52.1% from deep as a team. Davis Bertans (left calf strain) was out for the Mavericks.

Joel Embiid led the Sixers in their losing effort, finishing with 35 points and eight rebounds. James Harden finished with 27 points and 13 assists. Tyrese Maxey had 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting. The Sixers shot 57.7% from the floor but still lost due to their brutal defensive performance. Dewayne Dedmon (left hip soreness) remained out for the Sixers.

The Sixers have a much needed day off before resuming their road trip with a primetime matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. Here are some observations from the loss:

– Against the Mavericks, head coach Doc Rivers reinserted Maxey into the starting lineup and moved De’Anthony Melton back to the bench. Fans have been calling for Maxey to be moved back into the starting five for weeks. Melton did an admirable job filling in when Maxey was out with a left foot fracture, but he has struggled in recent weeks. It is well past time for Maxey to retake his starting spot. This is the first time the Sixers have had their opening night starting lineup since Jan. 12.

Having Melton in the starting lineup improved the Sixers’ perimeter defense. With the regular starting lineup back in, the Sixers elected to begin the game with P.J. Tucker matched up against Doncic and Maxey on Irving. Maxey struggled with his defensive assignment early on as Irving scored 10 points in the first six minutes of the game. Irving and the Mavericks took advantage of the Sixers’ poor ability to navigate around screens, getting him multiple open looks. Irving and Doncic combined to score 27 of the Mavericks’ 38 points in the first quarter.

Maxey struggled to get into any sort of rhythm through the first three quarters, scoring just 12 points. However, he caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points. He was solid finishing around the rim, successfully attacking off the dribble. It was a cool reminder of what Maxey is capable of doing when he is on his game. Having him back in the starting lineup was a good move, but the timing was questionable. Of all nights to go back to more of an offense-oriented lineup, maybe doing it against a team with the backcourt of Irving and Doncic is not it.

Melton also put together a good game, impacting the game in a variety of ways. He made multiple key plays defensively, showcasing his good hands by stripping the ball away from Doncic on one occasion. He finished the game with 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals.

– Harden’s performance in the first quarter was nearly perfect. He orchestrated the offense with ease, dishing out seven assists. He was also dominant as a scorer. The majority of his scoring production in the opening quarter came after Embiid checked out of the game with 1:57 left. He drilled two step-back 3-pointers, including this and-one near the end of the quarter.

Harden scored 16 points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting (3-of-3 from beyond the arc) in the first quarter. Between the combination of his scoring and ability to run an offense, it is still mind boggling that he was not an All-Star this season. Despite his incredible start to the game, the Sixers went into the second quarter down 38-37. There was no shortage of offense in the opening quarter. The Sixers shot 62 percent from the field compared to 64 percent for the Mavericks.

For as good of a first quarter that Harden had, he disappeared for much of the remainder of the night. He committed some sloppy turnovers at an inopportune time as the team was attempting their comeback in the fourth quarter. His play on the other end of the floor was subpar throughout the night. He strayed off his man multiple times, often resulting in wide open shots from beyond the arc that the Mavericks took advantage of.

– Embiid had an up-and-down night against the Mavericks. He began the game in rhythm, using the pick-and-roll with Harden to get a flurry of open looks from the mid-range. He also sprinkled in some strong attempts around the rim, taking advantage of the fact Dallas has nobody who can come close to defending him one-on-one.

However, Embiid was not able to really impact the game defensively. With Doncic cooking the Sixers’ defense, Embiid often was called up to help on switches. Doncic, it felt like nearly every time Embiid switched onto him, went and drilled a crazy step-back jumper. Embiid having to switch and defend more on the perimeter forced the Sixers to have to rotate more to cover things up. Unfortunately, their rotations tended to be poor, allowing the Mavericks to get open looks they took advantage of.

– Defense was clearly not mandatory for either of these teams. The Mavericks went into halftime with a 71-67 lead. Both superstar duos were putting on a clinic. Then the third quarter came around and Dallas blew the game wide open, going on a 20-4 run coming out of halftime. They scored 39 points in the quarter while shooting 9-of-13 from 3-point range. Doncic knocked down multiple insane step-back jumpers from well beyond the arc. Reggie Bullock caught fire, draining three triples in the quarter. The Sixers’ defense was lackadaisical for much of the game, but the Mavericks also had some extraordinary shot making.

– Rivers, for the second consecutive game, made some tweaks to the rotation and substitution pattern. The switch Danuel House Jr for Georges Niang was seemingly short lived. Niang checked into the game with 1:57 left in the first quarter. The game off for Niang did not help him regain his touch from beyond the arc. He went scoreless while grabbing three rebounds in 12 minutes. House Jr did briefly check into the game with 13.7 seconds left in the opening quarter, but that was the extent of his time on the floor.

Embiid was playing the entirety of the first quarter with Harden checking out with a few minutes remaining. The roles were reversed against the Mavericks, although this could have been due to Harden’s excellent performance to begin the game.

Neither of the Sixers’ superstar duo was on the floor to open up the second quarter. The team utilized a lineup of Maxey, Melton, Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Paul Reed. Tobias Harris checked back into the game for McDaniels with 10:34 left in the quarter. On most nights, the combination of Maxey and Harris can provide enough offense to make that a sustainable lineup in short spurts. However, the lineup did not last long because Reed picked up three quick fouls. It was disappointing to see Reed fail to build off the momentum he had after his season-best performance in the win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday. Montrezl Harrell played the next three minutes until Embiid checked back in. It was Harrell’s first game action since Feb. 13.

For as bad as the bench played for much of the night, they came up with a huge stretch early in the fourth quarter to get the Sixers back in the game. The Maxey-led bench lineup went on a 15-0 run in the first 3:33 of the quarter. The run cut what was at one point a 25-point deficit down to as low as four points. Maxey did most of the damage offensively through a few big finishes around the rim and a step-back 3-pointer. Defensively, the combination of Reed and McDaniels gave the Mavericks some trouble. The duo possesses a ton of length and versatility, and the Sixers should look to pair them both on the floor often.

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