Sixers Kick Off Second Half with Win Over Bulls

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The second half of the regular season is officially underway for the Sixers. They would have their first game back since the All-Star break on Thursday night in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls.

Due to health and safety protocols, the Sixers would be without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in this one. Despite the absence of their All-Stars, the supporting cast would not rollover. Seven different players would break double-figures en route to the Sixers picking up a 127-105 victory over the Bulls.

Tobias Harris would be called upon to lead the charge, and he would deliver. After missing his first five shots, he did a great job of locking in. Harris ended up shooting 8/10 from the floor after the cold spell to start and would be the team's leading scorer with 24 points.

The star of the night for the Sixers would be Tony Bradley. He would start at center in place of Embiid and would make the most of the opportunity. Bradley would rack up 14 points on perfect 7/7 shooting from the floor.

His defense would be a boost as well, coming down with five rebounds and blocking three shots. For a guy that has not gotten consistent minutes this season, Bradley has always done a good job of staying prepared and playing well when given the chance.

When these two teams met the first time, Matisse Thybulle's defense was a key factor that led to the Sixers picking up the win. The second time around Thybulle would put on a similar defensive showcase. His defense was a large part of Zach LaVine finishing this game with just 19 points.

On top of his stellar defense on LaVine, Thybulle would tie his career-high with five steals. His strong play on defense would carry over to the other side of the floor as well. Thybulle would step out and hit all three of his attempts from beyond the arc and would finish the game with 13 points.

Before the All-Star break, the Sixers' second unit had strung some solid performances together after weeks of struggling. The momentum would carry over after the break and would be much needed as the Sixers would need to find scoring from somewhere.

When all was said and done, the Sixers would have 55 bench points, outscoring the Bull's bench by 22. The two main standouts from the second unit would be Furkan Korkmaz (13 points, 4 assists) and Dwight Howard who finished with a double-double (18 points, 12 rebounds).

Coming out of the break the Sixers would be looking to hit the ground running, and they did just that in this victory. Picking up a blowout victory in a game without both of your star players says a lot about the fight in this team. The togetherness they showed in this win spoke volumes to the continuity within this group.

The Sixers will have a short turnaround as they will be back in action tomorrow night, facing off against Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards. They could potentially have some reinforcements as Joel Embiid could potentially clear protocol.


Sixers' First Half Report Card

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

As the All-Star game has come and gone, teams are gearing up for the second of this condensed NBA season. With 36 games in the books now, there is a good sample size to gauge this new look Sixers team.

Despite all the turnover that happened from top to bottom in the short offseason, the Sixers have been able to figure it out on the fly and see success while doing so. At the halfway point they sit atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 24-12.

Here is a full report card for how the team has done through the first half of the regular season.

Daryl Morey: A

Before we get into the players, we have to start at the top. One of the key changes the Sixers made in the offseason was bringing in Daryl Morey to aid Elton Brand in running basketball operations. It didn’t take long for Morey to come in and drastically improve this roster almost overnight during the NBA draft.

Morey hasn’t made many moves since draft night, but based on those trades and picks alone he has earned an A. Getting off of the Al Horford contract and bringing in a veteran with championship experience in Danny Green has worked out well so far. Not to mention his best move of the night, trading away Josh Richardson and acquiring Seth Curry.

The added shooting has fixed the Sixers’ spacing woes and has opened up the floor for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to play their games effectively. Depending on what Morey does in the trade and buyout markets, his grade could be upped to an A+ by the end of the season.

Doc Rivers: A 

The other major change within the organization from the coaching staff. After being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Celtics, the organization decided it was time to move on from Brett Brown as head coach.

It is not every day that a Hall of Fame coach becomes available, and the Sixers did not let that opportunity slip past them. The addition of Doc Rivers has paid off well for the Sixers, both on and off the floor.

Players have talked a little season about what Rivers has done for the culture off the floor, mainly his importance of accountability. Seeing the team this year compared to last year, there has been a night and day difference in terms of culture.

Rivers has also impacted the play on the floor. One player in particular is Tobias Harris, who has played at an All-Star level since being reunited with his former coach.

Between his ability to lead this team and continually pushing them to strive for more, Rivers has also earned an A.

Joel Embiid: A+ 

This was the easiest grade to hand out. Through the first half of this season, Joel Embiid has firmly asserted himself into the upper echelon of NBA superstars, leading the MVP race in the process (pun intended).

Embiid has been nothing short of dominant this season, posting career-highs in multiple categories. Heading into the second half of the season, he is sitting at 30.2 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, and posting over a steal and block per game.

What has been most impressive of his play this season has been his efficiency. Along with putting up those monster averages, Embiid is also just shy of the 50/40/90 mark. Currently, he is shooting 52.1% from the field, 41.6% from three, and 85.6% from the free-throw line. All of those numbers are career-highs.

So far this season Embiid has without a doubt been the most important player on the Sixers. He has been an anchor on both sides of the floor and has put this team on his shoulders on multiple occasions. He without a doubt deserves an A+ for his first-half performance.

Ben Simmons: A 

Now here is where it could get polarizing. Some may say Simmons had a rough start to the season based on his averages, but he has been a key piece to the Sixers’ success in the first half.

Despite the dip in averages early on, Simmons is back to his normal stats. He is currently averaging 16.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, and 7.6 APG. Along with his numbers, Simmons has shown he is arguably the best defender in the league on a nightly basis.

In the last few weeks of the first half, we saw a glimpse of Simmons taking a step in his game. He has shown a newfound aggressiveness as a scorer and has gotten to the line at a great rate. On the year Simmons is posting a career-high 67.1% from the line on 5.4 attempts a game.

It may not show up on the stat sheet every night, but Simmons affects winning on a nightly basis. His elite-level defense and playmaking are crucial for the Sixers, and it has been on full display in the games he has missed. Simmons was deserving of an All-Star selection this season and a first-half grade of an A.

Tobias Harris: A 

Another player who was arguably deserving of an All-Star selection is Tobias Harris. He has put up All-Star numbers and has been a great sidekick to Embiid offensively every night.

Harris is currently averaging 20.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 3.4 APG. Similar to Embiid, he is also just outside the 50/40/90 club. Shooting 51.3% from the field, 40.2% from three, and 88.7% from the line.

Playing under Doc Rivers again has greatly impacted Harris. He is back to playing at the All-Star level he did as a member of the Clippers. Along with his stellar play offensively, Harris has also shown improvements on the defensive end.

The area that Harris has stood out in is hitting shots late in games. Many critics have said the Sixers have needed a closer, but Harris and Embiid have done a fine job finishing out games by committee.

Whether it was his game-winner against the Lakers or his scoring outburst in overtime against the Jazz, Harris has been huge for the Sixers down the stretch of games. He has consistently played like an All-Star all year and has well earned a grade of an A.

Seth Curry: B 

Seth Curry had a great start to the season for the Sixers but has had some up-and-down play since returning to the lineup after going through health and safety protocols. Despite his lows at times, his outside shooting has been a skill the Sixers have missed.

Currently, Curry is averaging 12.5 PPG and shooting an impressive 44.8% from beyond the arc. His ability to knock down shots at a high rate has been vital to the Sixers fixing their spacing issues on the floor.

Another thing that Curry has brought is ball-handling, which is something that has allowed Doc Rivers to experiment more with Ben Simmons off the ball. His ability to put the ball on the floor and create has been a nice boost in the half-court offense.

Curry is a guy that could easily up his grade in the second half of the season. But for now, he sits at a B.

Danny Green: B- 

I think Danny Green has played as advertised this season. He has been a veteran three-and-D wing who has fit nicely on the floor with Simmons and Embiid. His play on both ends has been inconsistent at times, but that is expected for a guy in his 12th season.

Green is a guy who will show his value in the postseason. Having won multiple championships, he understands what it takes to win it all. But until then, he sits at a B-.

The bench unit: C+/B-

The weakness of the second unit became apparent during the Sixers’ west coast swing and has been on display ever since. That being said, they have also put together some impressive performances. This is why they sit between a C+ and a B-.

Most of the second unit’s struggles have come on the offensive end. Since Shake Milton went down with an ankle injury against the Kings, this group struggled to create good looks on offense. Their lack of scoring has cost the team leads and even some games.

This is likely a grade that will improve by the end of the season. As the trade deadline approaches, Daryl Morey is likely to make moves to bolster this second unit. Two areas of improvement would be acquiring a backup point guard and a backup stretch big.

Guys like Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Furkan Korkmaz have all had nice showings throughout the first half to make this second unit look capable. But if the Sixers want to make a deep run into the finals, they should be eyeing a piece or two to fill out the rotation.


Rumor Report: Sixers Showing Interest In Kings' Forward

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

As the All-Star break slowly approaches so does another key date, the March 25th trade deadline. Teams have three weeks left to make the necessary moves to upgrade their roster before the playoffs.

The Sixers have been linked to some names in recent weeks, and now a new target has popped up. Shams Charania of The Athletic has reported that the Sixers are among the list of teams expressing interest in Sacramento Kings' forward Nemanja Bjelica. Miami, Boston, Milwaukee, and Golden State are also rumored to be in the mix to acquire him.

Sacramento will likely be sellers as the deadline as they have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Bjelica has spent some time out of the Kings' rotation this season, which should make his price tag low.

In 18 games for the Kings this season he is averaging 8.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 2.3 APG playing around 17 minutes per game. One potential red flag is that Bjelica is currently shooting a career-low 31% from beyond the arc.

Although his poor shooting is something to keep an eye on, it is something that could drastically improve when sharing the floor with players like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Bjelica has shot over 40% from three for the past three seasons and has a career average of 38.9% from beyond the arc.

Bjelica is the exact type of player archetype that the Sixers should be eyeing at the deadline. Although Mike Scott has played well as of late, he has been riddled with injury this season and has struggled to put together some consistent play.

Adding a guy like Bjelica would give the second unit a reliable knock-down shooter on the outside and someone who can eat into the power forward minutes. That way Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons aren't logging big minutes every night.

This is a rather easy move for Daryl Morey to pull off if he wants to. Bjelica's contract is 7.1 million for this season, which would fit right into the team's trade exception from the Al Horford deal. With him being out of the rotation and having a down year, it would likely only cost a second-round pick to acquire the veteran sharpshooter.

Three-point shooting has been a weakness for the Sixers at times through this first half of the season. Adding a reliable shooter who can play with any lineup would be an instant upgrade for the Sixers. Also, at such a cheap cost, it wouldn't eat into any of the tradeable assets Morey still has at his disposal.


Three-point shooting, more takeaways from win over Jazz

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Sixers would wrap up the first half of the schedule on Wednesday night in a rematch with the Utah Jazz. This matchup had high expectations with both teams being at full strength this time around, and it did not disappoint. 

Joel Embiid would send the game into overtime after hitting a huge three-pointer in the closing seconds to tie the game. After that, they would take full control in overtime and come away with a 131-123 victory. 

Here are some takeaways from the overtime thriller between the conference leaders. 

Three-point shooting 

Three-point shooting was a major disparity when these teams faced off in Utah, and the same would happen Wednesday night. The Jazz would light it up from three all night while the Sixers couldn't buy a bucket from deep for three quarters. 

Utah would almost hit triple the amount of threes as the Sixers, netting 21 of their 44 attempts. The Sixers would hit just eight threes in the contest, with one of them coming from Dwight Howard. 

Things would change in the second half for the Sixers once they got their second three to fall. This could also be attributed to their increase in attempts. After attempting just eight threes in the first half the Sixers would get up 17 shots from deep in the final two quarters and make seven of them. 

Although the Sixers were able to pull this one out, the struggles and lack of three-point shooting at times are still concerning. Getting consistent attempts from deep should be a major point of emphasis from this team in the second half of the season. 

Up-and-down play from the bench 

The play of the second unit has been another key area for the Sixers in recent weeks. They would struggle early in this game but would start a surge in the second half that would swing the momentum back in the Sixers' favor. 

Doc Rivers continues to roll out all-bench lineups in his rotations despite their struggles. They would continue to struggle to create good looks on offense and it would allow Utah to extend their lead. 

Things would change towards the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter for this second unit. After an incredible stretch of plays from Dwight Howard where he would record a block, steal, and made three, the bench unit got just the spark they needed. 

After that, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz would hit some shots of their own, and just like that the Sixers were back within striking distance. Rivers would say after the game that this run really turned things around for the team. 

This performance from the second unit should be something to hang their hat on. They finish off the first half of the schedule with back-to-back impressive performances, giving them the momentum they need to hit the ground running in the second half. 

Tobias Harris stepping up when it matters 

Tobias Harris would make his return to the lineup against Utah after missing two games with a right knee contusion. He would be pretty quiet for most of this game but asserted himself when needed most. 

Harris would end the night with 22 points, with 13 of those points coming in the fourth quarter and overtime. His ability to go at mismatches when Joel Embiid was double-teamed was crucial for the Sixers in this win. 

This performance can be added to the multiple instances when Harris has pulled off a big performance in the final quarter to help seal a win. Critics have said this team still needs a closer to be elite, but Harris has shown time and time again this season he can make plays for this team late in games. 

Making plays down the stretch 

Arguably the biggest takeaway from this game is the Sixers' play on both ends down the stretch. Their ability to get clean looks on offense was great, but what stood out the most was just how dominant their defense is when locked in. 

The Jazz shot around 50% from the floor and three for most of this game, but couldn't get anything going in overtime. Between Ben Simmons patrolling the perimeter and Embiid anchoring the defense at the rim, Utah couldn't generate a clean look. They would score only five points in the overtime period, shooting just 1-10.

Before the game, Doc Rivers said he feels this team could be the top team defensively when the season is over, and they showed it in overtime. With Simmons and Embiid playing at this level on defense, this team is going to be able to get stops against anyone. 

 Between Embiid's ability to dominate anywhere on the floor and the defensive ceiling of this group, the Sixers are going to be a very tough team to beat down the stretch in close games. 


Takeaways from Sixers' overtime loss to Cavs

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

After a dominant defensive showing against the Mavericks on national television on Thursday, the Sixers would be back in action on Saturday night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Sixers would lack energy for a majority of this game, and it would result in the matchup going down to the wire. 

Joel Embiid would get a chance to win the game for the Sixers at the end of regulation but could not get his shot to go. The Cavs would go on to pick up a 112-109 victory in overtime. Cleveland is now 2-0 on the season against the Sixers. 

Here are some takeaways from the Saturday night matchup. 

Supporting cast struggles 

The Sixers' supporting cast has had its struggles in recent weeks, and it would carry on in this game. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons would have good games against the Cavs, but everyone around them would have a tough time scoring. 

Outside of the two All-Stars, only one other Sixer would finish this game in double-figures, Shake Milton who racked up 11 points off the bench. It took until about the seven-minute mark in the third quarter for someone outside of Embiid and Simmons to score more than five points. The stars can only do so much when they are getting such minimal production from the players around them. 

One player in particular who would have major struggles is Seth Curry. Since returning from Covid, Curry's play has been up and down. Saturday's game against Cleveland was arguably his worst in a Sixer uniform. Curry would finish with just four points on 1-13 shooting from the floor. 

The Sixers become much more dynamic when the supporting cast can knock down shots. Hopefully after some much-needed rest over the All-Star break, they can get back to form in the second half of the season. 

Missing Tobias Harris 

Tobias Harris would miss his first game of the season on Saturday after suffering a knee contusion against the Mavericks. The Sixers would miss him greatly against the Cavaliers, especially on the offensive end. 

The Sixers would start slow on offense, and part of it was because of a new starting lineup. With Furkan Korkmaz starting with Curry and Danny Green, they struggled to get their offensive sets going. Not to mention without Harris in the lineup, they lost a pick-and-roll threat and someone who operates a good two man game with Embiid. 

Seeing how the offense looked without Harris speaks volumes to the consistency he has brought to the team this year. It showed how crucial he has been to the Sixers' success in the first half of the season and might enhance his case for being an All-Star snub.  

Simmons and Embiid leading the charge 

With the supporting cast struggling the way they did, it was on Simmons and Embiid to carry this team to the finish line. The All-Star duo would do just that, both would dominate the Cavs in an attempt to steal this game. 

Simmons would start this game getting downhill and putting pressure on the Cavs in transition. He would then switch to working in the post, a part of his game that has continued to grow this season. By the end of the game, Simmons would have 24 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. 

Embiid has had some minor struggles in recent games, but he would get back to his dominant self against the Cavs. The MVP favorite would erupt for 42 points and come down with 13 rebounds. On top of his huge scoring outburst, he would also dish six assists. 

Although it resulted in a loss, it was good to see Simmons and Embiid dominate together. This team is only going to go as far as they can take them, so seeing them continue to figure out how to put up big showings in the same game is a major positive. 

Playing down to an opponent 

This has been a bad habit for the Sixers for multiple years now. They continue to drop games against teams that they should not. 

Looking at this game, there was no reason for the Sixers to drop this game. At home against a struggling team who was missing multiple players should have been an easy win to keep the momentum going. But sleepwalking through the first half resulted in the Cavs being able to swing the game in their favor. 

The Cavaliers are not a good team this season, and they should not be 2-0 against the Sixers, who have finals aspirations. Now although it is not something to go rushing for the panic button for, it is something to monitor. If the Sixers want to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, they cannot have these lapses and drop unnecessary games like this.  


Strong defense carries Sixers in win over Mavericks

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Sixers would be back on their home floor Thursday night in a matchup against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Both teams would start slow in this game, but it didn't take long for the Sixers to take full control.

Team defense would carry the Sixers, making every possession tough for the Mavericks. This engaged defense, along with strong performances from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, would lead the Sixers to a convincing 111-97 victory.

Ben Simmons would not appear to have a great game looking at the box score, but he would be the standout player for the Sixers on Thursday night. His aggressive play on both ends of the floor would be a key factor in the Sixers running away with this game.

Simmons would finish this game with a stat line of 15 points, three rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and one block. What was most impressive about Simmons' efforts was his defense on Luka Doncic.

From the opening tip, Simmons made his life miserable, giving him no room to operate and funneling him right to Joel Embiid in the lane. Doncic would end the night with 19 points and turned the ball over seven times. On the other side of the floor, he continued to get downhill in transition and punish smaller matchups when switched on to him.

Embiid would have a rough shooting night on the outside but would still manage to put up numbers. Despite shooting 5-20 on the night the MVP favorite would score 23 points in just under 28 minutes of action.

Things would not go well for Tobias Harris in this matchup. He would score just six points before leaving the game in the second half due to a right knee contusion.

The Sixers' second unit has been in a dry spell over the last two weeks, but they would have a much-needed breakout game against Dallas. 46 of the team's 111 points would come from the bench.

Shake Milton and Dwight Howard in particular would lead the surge off the bench. Both would be two of the five Sixers to finish this game in double figures. Milton would score 10 points and dish six assists, while Howard would rack up 14 points and come down with eight rebounds.

Three-point shooting has also hurt the Sixers at times in their recent stretch but they look to be getting hot from deep after Tuesday's game against the Raptors. Five different Sixers would hit at least two threes tonight en route to shooting 41.4% from beyond the arc as a group. This effectiveness from the outside did a great job opening up the floor for Embiid and Simmons to attack around the rim.

The Sixers couldn't have kicked off their final stretch of the first half of the season in a better fashion. They were able to get their stars off their feet for the entire fourth quarter and keep up their dominant play on their home floor. Looking ahead, their next game will be on Saturday facing off against Collin Sexton and the Cleveland Cavaliers.


Rumor Report: Kyle Lowry open to trade to Philly

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

We are exactly one month away from the NBA trade deadline, and the rumors are starting to pick up. Recently Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported that Daryl Morey and the Sixers are still looking to make 'big moves' before the upcoming deadline. One name O'Connor tied to the Sixers is Raptors' guard Kyle Lowry.

The Lowry to Philly talk has gained even more steam as the Sixers and Raptors just wrapped up a two game series. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that Lowry is open to the idea of being dealt to his hometown team.

A source said Lowry would like to be in Philly. The source believes the Sixers and Raptors might be able to get something done.

The Philadelphia native has played 26 games for the Raptors this year and is currently averaging 18.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 6.5 APG. He is also shooting a stellar 39.5% from beyond the arc on seven attempts per game.

Lowry's playstyle fits what the Sixers should be looking to upgrade, but acquiring him is going to be no small task. Along with creating a package of proper compensation for a six-time All-Star, they have to match his 30 million dollar salary.

In a deal to acquire Lowry, the Sixers would have to include Danny Green, Mike Scott, Terrance Ferguson, and Tony Bradley, and that is just to salary match. They would still have to throw in draft pick(s) or a young player like Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, or Tyrese Maxey.

Bringing in Lowry would certainly push the Sixers more into the title picture, but will they have enough left to round out the roster after a deal like this is done? In using all of the contracts at the end of the bench to get Lowry, the Sixers will have very little to work with to continue to make upgrades.

All they would have left to upgrade the roster is the trade exception from the Al Horford deal (8.1 million) and what's left of the taxpayer's mid-level exception. Realistically speaking you still could acquire players to fill the bench with those, but you are leaving a lot to chance.

This is an interesting position to be in for the Sixers. They have the assets to get a Lowry deal done, but is it the right move? Should Morey play it safe and use his pieces to revamp the second unit to better fit a starting lineup that has played well together, or should he push all in and acquire a soon-to-be 35-year-old on an expiring contract? It looks like we could find out soon.

Morey has always been know for getting deals done so he is not just going to sit on his hands. It is all going to come down to if he wants to work the margins or make a big splash to his already star-filled lineup.


Korkmaz erupts in Sixers' victory over Raptors

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Sixers would be back in action for part two of their mini-series against the Toronto Raptors. Despite Joel Embiid struggling from the floor, the Sixers' supporting cast would pick up the slack and help carry the load.

Six different Sixers would break double-figures in this game as the Sixers would walk away with a 109-102 victory, splitting the series. This win was their first victory over the Raptors on the road since 2012.

Furkan Korkmaz would be the breakout player for the Sixers in this game. He would get the chance to start in place of an injured Seth Curry and made the most of the opportunity.

Korkmaz would erupt from three to start the game en route to finishing as the team's second-lead scorer with 19 points. With a performance like this, he appears to be breaking out of his recent cold spell.

Before tonight's tip-off, the reserves for both All-Star teams would be announced. Ben Simmons would be named to his third straight All-Star team, while Tobias Harris would be left off. Harris would come out in this one and show why he was one of the snubs to not get a nomination this year.

He would start the game off slow but would hit multiple shots late in the game to help secure the win for the Sixers. In all, he would finish with 23 points (team-high), seven rebounds, and five assists. Harris would also get back to his efficient shooting, making eight of his 12 shot attempts and shooting 3-4 from beyond the arc.

Simmons put on another solid performance since missing two games due to illness. He would go on and rack up 15 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. His impressive shooting from the foul line would also continue, hitting five of his six attempts.

Joel Embiid did a nice job handling the traps and double teams Nick Nurse threw at him in game one of this matchup, but the same can not be said for game two. The All-Star starter would still go on to score 18 points and grab 12 rebounds, but the defense would do a much better job containing him the second time around.

Three-point shooting was a major factor that led to the Sixers dropping Sunday's game. That would not be the case the second time around as they would be able to capitalize on the open looks they were generating.

As a team the Sixers would shoot 44.7% from deep, hitting 17 of their 38 attempts. What is most impressive about this stellar shooting night is that they did it without their best shooter in Seth Curry.

Looking ahead, the Sixers head back home for a four-game homestand to finish off the first half of the schedule. First up is a matchup against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.


Sixers drop game one of series with Raptors

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Sixers would hit the road on Sunday traveling to Tampa Bay to start a mini-series with the Toronto Raptors. This game would go down to the wire, but in the end, the Sixers would fall just short.

After going nearly eight minutes in the fourth quarter without a basket the Raptors would create just enough distance to keep the Sixers away. In the end, they would walk away with a 110-103 victory.

The Sixers would get back not one but two players tonight as Ben Simmons and Shake Milton would both return to the lineup in this one. Both would go on to give good production in the Sixers' effort tonight.

Simmons came right out from the opening tip and assert himself on offense. He would continue to get downhill in the open floor and show similar aggressiveness that he did in his dominant showing against the Utah Jazz last week.

He would finish the game as the team's leading scorer with 28 points, along with grabbing nine rebounds and dishing five assists. What would stand out most from his performance is his efficiency shooting the ball. Simmons shot 81.8% from the floor, making nine of his 11 field goal attempts, and would convert 10 of his 14 attempts from the foul line.

Milton would have a slow start but find a groove in the second half. He would lead the bench unit with nine points, along with hitting a trio of shots from beyond the arc. Having him back on the floor was a much-needed boost for a second unit that has struggled on the offensive end of the floor.

Raptor's head coach Nick Nurse has always thrown an array of traps and double teams at Joel Embiid, and the same would happen on Sunday night. Toronto would start small and double Embiid on every touch before throwing Aron Baynes on him for stretches.

Embiid would make nice reads out of double teams all night, but the Sixers would struggle to capitalize on the looks. He would struggle shooting the ball as well, hitting just six of his 20 shot attempts, but that did not stop the MVP frontrunner from racking up 25 points and 17 rebounds.

Three-point shooting and the bench battle continue to be the downfall of the Sixers in their recent stretch. The Sixers would shoot under 30% as a team from deep, hitting 11 out of 37 attempts.

Outside of Shake Milton, the Sixers' second unit would score just seven points. This would result in the Raptors' bench outscoring them by 35-16. Lack of production out of the bench unit continues to be a glaring weakness for this team.

Looking ahead, the Sixers will look to regroup and get ready to potentially split this mini-series on Tuesday night.


Thybulle's defensive impact, more takeaways from win over Rockets

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless. The Sixers were able to end their three-game losing streak on Wednesday night, beating the Houston Rockets by a final score of 118-113. Here are some takeaways from the down-to-the-wire victory. 

Hunting three-point shots

The Sixers would hold a big lead for a large majority of this game and it was in large part because of their outside shooting. After a road trip where it was apparent that the volume of three-point attempts is a glaring issue, the Sixers looked to be hunting for threes early on against the Rockets. 

This emphasis on three-point shooting would pay off as they would heat up from deep and open up this game early. Seth Curry and Danny Green would catch fire from deep en route to shooting a combined 7-11 from three in the game. 

When the Sixers are openly looking for three-point shots it makes their offense look much more dynamic, and gives Joel Embiid more than enough room to operate in the mid-range. As great as the perimeter shooting was in the first half, they back into old habits in the second half. 

After going 11-18 from three in the first two quarters, they would make just one three in the second half. Houston would be able to claw back into the game because they would shoot a decent percentage from three and the Sixers would go back to trading baskets with twos against threes. 

Although they would fall off from three in the second half, it was still good to see them address their lack of outside shooting in the first half. Moving forward this emphasis needs to last through entires games. Eight three-points in two quarters is not enough in today's game. 

Supporting cast bounces back 

Another area that has hurt the Sixers recently is the lack of production from the supporting cast. That would not be the case against the Rockets as guys would step up and give good production behind Embiid and Tobias Harris. 

Curry and Green were two of the key players to step up in this game. Along with their good shooting from deep, they would also combine for 37 points. Their scoring boost was much needed with Ben Simmons not in the lineup. 

The bench would struggle for the most part again this matchup, but one player would stand out. Tyrese Maxey continues to see a minutes boost in the absence of Shake Milton and he made the most of it against the Rockets. He would be one of five Sixers to end the game in double-figures, scoring 10 points on 4-7 shooting. 

If the Sixers are going to get back to their winning ways the second unit is going to need to get back to playing how it did to start the year. Embiid, Simmons, and Harris have all been playing great basketball this season, but it will be hard to remain competitive when teams take control of games when they are off the floor. 

Matisse Thybulle's defensive impact 

Ben Simmons would be a late scratch in this game due to a non-COVID-related illness. In his absence, Doc Rivers would opt to start Matisse Thybulle in his place. This was likely to have a defensive player who could keep up with John Wall. 

The Sixers would drop into a zone defense early and saw the similar success they saw against the Pacers when they first pulled it out. Thybulle was all over the floor in that game and would do more of the same against the Rockets. 

Thybulle was the maestro of the zone defense, flying all around the floor to deflect passes and disrupt shots. He would end the night with an impressive four steals and one block. 

Rivers has said in the past that having Thybulle off the bench is like 'having a great relief pitcher' in terms of his defense. His ability to impact a game defensively as a second-year player is something that we do not see often. If he can continue to figure out his game offensively he will a key impact player for the Sixers when the postseason rolls around.