For many reasons, the Sixers' 114-105 win Saturday night over the Bulls must be an especially satisfying one for Sixers head coach Doc Rivers.
The victory was the Sixers' six in a row and the 1,000th of Rivers' coaching career. The Chicago native now sits at 1,000-706, 57-25 as a Sixer.
Rivers' team won despite again being highly shorthanded.
The full list of Sixers out: Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe (health and safety protocols); Danny Green (left hamstring tightness); Ben Simmons (personal reasons); and Grant Riller (left knee injury recovery).
The Sixers called up rookies Jaden Springer and Aaron Henry, bringing the two to Chicago instead of having them play in the Delaware Blue Coats’ opener. They were ultimately there just in case as Rivers used an eight-player rotation for a second game in a row.
Joel Embiid posted 30 points and 15 rebounds. Furkan Korkmaz scored 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting.
The Bulls’ Zach LaVine scored a team-high 32 points on 12-for-26 shooting.
Two-game road trip complete, the 8-2 Sixers will be home for their next three. They’ll play a back-to-back Monday and Tuesday against the Knicks and Bucks. Here are observations on their win over Chicago:
Welcome back, Furkan
After a first quarter without a ton of offense on either side, the Sixers exploded for 15 straight points out of nowhere in the middle of the second.
Korkmaz, who missed Thursday's win over the Pistons with right wrist soreness, nailed one of his familiar, “Yep, I’m feeling it” transition three-pointers during that run and went for 14 first-half points on 5-for-6 shooting.
Embiid also snapped into a zone, wrapping up the 15-0 surge with a trailing three-ball. He made another three with 7.4 seconds left in the second, giving him 20 points and 10 rebounds at halftime.
Korkmaz's confidence is apparently infinite, and it's sure been high this season in fourth quarters. With 11 final-period points Saturday, he has 62 this year in nine appearances. That's by far the most on the Sixers.
The Sixers' late-game offense wasn't always smooth Saturday night. Embiid committed six of the Sixers' 14 turnovers in the game. Those giveaways led to 23 Bulls points and helped Chicago erase a second-half deficit as high as 14 points.
However, Embiid and Korkmaz managed to carry the Sixers across the finish line. Korkmaz drained a massive three with 3:02 left to extend the Sixers' lead to 104-99. Embiid iced the game with a long-range jumper to make it 112-104 with 15.5 seconds to go.
‘B-Ball Paul,’ NBA starter
Paul Reed, last season’s G League MVP, started his first NBA game in a lineup alongside Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Shake Milton and Embiid.
Though Reed has a penchant for chaos, he mostly played his role and avoided any wildness. In his first stint, Reed picked up a back-tap steal, grabbed an offensive rebound and played solid defense in a tough matchup on DeMar DeRozan. The 22-year-old threw down a put-back dunk early in the second quarter, too, and did the same in the third.
DeRozan, who scored 37 points Wednesday on the Sixers, started 0 for 4 from the floor. Reed guarded him well, corralling the veteran’s drives, staying in front of him and effectively sticking to the fundamentals of on-ball defense. He did bite on a third-quarter DeRozan pump fake, though, and also fouled him on a fourth-quarter three.
That the Sixers prevented DeRozan from another monster game (25 points, four assists) was significant. The Bulls have no doubt improved, but they don’t look like a great offensive team when DeRozan isn’t at a superstar level. Chicago is reliant on its top players and doesn’t have much second-unit scoring pop.
In addition to his defensive versatility, Reed’s rebounding skill (and desire) might boost his case for minutes when the Sixers have a healthier team. The Sixers entered Saturday’s game 23rd in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and 26th in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage, per Cleaning the Glass.
Reed’s wasn’t flawless; he was whistled for a moving screen in the first period and stripped by DeRozan after passing up a three in the third. Still, his night as a whole was encouraging. In 22 minutes, Reed had 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting, five rebounds, a block and a steal.
Lots of Maxey minutes
Maxey played Allen Iverson-eque minutes over the past two games, totaling 89 on the Sixers’ road trip. Even for a player as energetic as Maxey, that’s not a pace the Sixers will want to maintain over the course of the season.
Though Maxey wasn’t bad at all (10 points, eight assists), Milton shined again in a 13-point, seven-rebound, six-assist performance. He forced LaVine to take plenty of contested jumpers and was steady on the other end of the floor.
Milton halted a 7-0 third-quarter Bulls spurt with an important and-one runner. Whenever the Sixers have needed a bucket or a clutch defensive play, it seems they’ve gotten it during their winning streak. And Embiid often hasn’t been required to provide the momentum-turning play.
Ten games in, the Sixers have been remarkably gritty.
“I think just our mental toughness. ... You look at all the stuff — the clutter, I like to call it — around the team — we’ve ignored it," Rivers told reporters in Chicago before the game. “So I think if I could say one thing about this team so far — and it’s early — it’s just the togetherness that they have. It’s a really close group, and all this stuff in some ways has kind of made them hunker in with each other. It’s been good so far.”