3 observations after Embiid guides Sixers to another tight win


Joel Embiid led the way yet again and the Sixers built on a few positive streaks Wednesday night.

With a 110-106 win over the Hornets at Spectrum Center, the Sixers improved to 14-11, earned their third straight victory, swept their two-game mini-series, and completed a 3-1 road trip. They’ve won 16 in a row over Charlotte.

Embiid had 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Gordon Hayward scored 31 points for the Hornets. 

Charlotte was without LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee, Jalen McDaniels and Ish Smith for a second consecutive game after those five players entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

The Sixers will play the Jazz on Thursday night in Philadelphia. Here are observations on another tight win:

Embiid’s nifty (and mature) passing

Embiid picked up where he left off in Monday’s 43-point game against the Hornets, drilling a mid-range shot from the right elbow on his first field-goal attempt. He threw down a fast-break dunk a few minutes later, moving with fluidity uncommon for a 7-footer.

Embiid could've notched several more assists had his teammates converted open shots. He made a highlight dish in the first quarter when he faked to Shake Milton on the perimeter before hitting Matisse Thybulle for a dunk.

And, though it didn’t go down as an assist, Embiid set himself up in the second period with a clever toss off the backboard. The NBA announced Wednesday that All-Star voting will open on Christmas, and this play would’ve fit perfectly in an exhibition. 

Passing out of double teams has been a highly scrutinized area of Embiid’s game for a long time. The big man seems to have legitimately progressed early this season. Entering Wednesday’s game, his 0.66 assist-to-usage ratio and 11.5 turnover percentage were both career bests, per Cleaning the Glass. 

Even if some of the elevated assist statistics can be attributed to the Sixers needing Embiid to do more as a facilitator without Ben Simmons, we think it’s fair to say the eye test has matched the numbers. It’s been difficult for defenses to fluster Embiid or force him into unwanted passes; he’s known exactly where his teammates are and has been glad to find them. 

Wednesday night wasn’t as smooth for Embiid as the mini-series opener. Hornets center Nick Richards gave solid defensive effort and Embiid’s mid-range game was not quite so flawless. Embiid had to sit with 3:06 left before halftime when he was called for his third foul.

As expected, Charlotte increased Richards’ playing time and lightened the load on 6-foot-7 PJ Washington. Embiid’s physicality again troubled Washington. He drew 19 free throws, making 15. Embiid drove past Washington and hammered home an emphatic dunk to give the Sixers a 105-98 lead with 1:53 remaining.

Sixers' bench intact again 

The Sixers’ second unit was in a funk early in the second quarter. The team committed a shot clock violation when Milton couldn’t create anything at the end of a slow-developing possession. Andre Drummond was beaten for an offensive rebound by rookie JT Thor, whose and-one layup gave Charlotte a 31-28 advantage. 

The Sixers then immediately responded with a 10-0 run that included two Milton-to-Drummond alley-oops and a Georges Niang transition three-pointer. 

While the team’s many injuries and COVID-19-related absences this season have often broken up the starting lineup — Wednesday’s game was just the ninth for the opening-night starters — the bench hasn’t been whole for many games either. The more opportunities to build things like Milton and Drummond’s pick-and-roll chemistry or Thybulle’s sense for where exactly to expect kick-out passes when Niang draws help defenders, the better for the Sixers. 

Tyrese Maxey returned Wednesday after a game out with a non-COVID illness, sliding Milton back to the bench. Maxey was mostly a background figure and didn't look sharp, recording six points and three assists in 26 minutes. Isaiah Joe was the odd man out of the rotation despite a good showing Monday when he knocked down a trio of three-pointers.

Milton made a couple of important baskets at the start of the fourth quarter and followed up a 4-for-6 game from three-point territory with a 2-for-3 effort. Overall, the Sixers had a 25-13 bench points edge.

Curry helps turn tide

The Hornets weren’t as much of a one-man band as when Kelly Oubre Jr. posted 35 points Monday. Hayward, Miles Bridges and Oubre all reached double figures in first-half scoring.

Charlotte’s offense started to hum late in the second period and the Sixers provided assistance with momentum-fueling turnovers. The Sixers have been a low-turnover team thus far, but their giveaways have frequently occurred during runs from the opposition and that hasn’t been a coincidence. An Oubre corner three capped a 14-0 Hornets spurt that put Charlotte ahead 49-44. 

Hayward started hot and continued making big shots throughout the night. Danny Green opened the game on him and struggled, picking up two early fouls. 

As it needed to, the Sixers’ defensive performance improved at the beginning of the second half. The team was also perhaps a tad lucky that the Hornets missed multiple wide-open looks in a 10-for-29 night from three-point range. The Hornets' fortunes improved somewhat after halftime; Washington's banked-in three gave Charlotte a 98-97 fourth-quarter lead.

Seth Curry was certainly not cold from beyond the arc. To no one’s surprise, he bounced back from an 0-for-6 long-range shooting game Monday, hitting his first three-pointer and 4 of his 8 tries overall. He was the Sixers' No. 2 scorer with 23 points.

Curry beat the halftime buzzer with a short jumper, sending the Sixers into the locker room on a good note. On top of the jump shooting, his playmaking (eight assists) was valuable, too. 

Like with Tobias Harris (18 points, six rebounds), complex analysis is rarely required when Curry plays well. If he’s open and in rhythm, Curry is deadly.

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