3 observations after Embiid pours in 53 points, Sixers beat Hornets


Joel Embiid added a fourth 50-point game to his résumé on Sunday night. 

He was thoroughly and almost casually dominant in the Sixers' 131-113 win over the Hornets at Wells Fargo Center, posting 53 points on 20-for-32 shooting and 12 rebounds.

James Harden had 19 points, 16 assists and nine rebounds. 

Charlotte's Kelly Oubre Jr. and Terry Rozier scored 29 points each.

Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) and Danuel House Jr. (left foot laceration) remained out for the Sixers. House was listed as questionable leading into the past two games and took jumpers following the Sixers’ Sunday morning shootaround, so he appears likely to return soon. Head coach Doc Rivers said before the game that Maxey has continued to progress and the upcoming week will be a significant one in his return-to-play process. Maxey was cleared to run early this week.

Five Hornets were out with injuries, including LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. 

The 14-12 Sixers will face the Kings on Tuesday night. Here are observations on their victory Sunday: 

Pace, ball movement in short supply early 

Both teams took quite a while to find any offensive success. They started a combined 0 for 7 from the floor.

The Sixers appeared to have a smidge of momentum when Embiid converted a layup off of a De’Anthony Melton dish and Harden hit a step-back three. However, the team sorely lacked the pace Rivers had said he wanted to see improve pregame and failed to trouble the Charlotte defense much. The Sixers’ starters went 4 for 17 from the field in their opening stint. When Tobias Harris attempted to push the ball after a defensive rebound, Jalen McDaniels crept up from behind, stripped away a steal, and coasted in for a layup that gave the Hornets a 13-7 edge. 

Rivers shifted to an all-bench lineup late in the first quarter and that group's early results also were not pretty. Georges Niang, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle all committed turnovers in quick succession. Niang uncharacteristically declined an open three-pointer and waited too long to try a pass to P.J. Tucker inside. Thybulle also had a tough time initially on Rozier, struggling to cut off the veteran guard’s desired angles or make any productive gambles.  

Nevertheless, the Sixers’ second unit outperformed their first to begin the game. Shake Milton and Montrezl Harrell both reached the paint regularly and looked solid as a pick-and-roll duo. The Sixers played an effective stretch of zone defense and tied the game at 21-all early in the second quarter thanks to a 8-0 run. Not a remotely inspiring start, but the Sixers’ bench at least injected a bit of juice and prevented the team from falling into a deep hole. 

Embiid grabs control

Embiid flipped a switch in the second quarter and the Hornets’ efforts to stop his surge were futile.

Mason Plumlee was seriously overmatched against Embiid, as most defenders are. To his credit, Embiid also made sure the Sixers didn’t stay bogged down in slow-developing half-court possessions. After grabbing one defensive board, he decided to lead a fast break. Harris helped him out by filling the lane well, accepting Embiid’s pass, and throwing down a dunk. 

Amid Embiid’s domination, there were several noticeable instances of Sixers players not being on the same page. Following an Embiid and-one layup late in the second quarter, he immediately shared a few words with Harden, who’d just turned the ball over. He then talked with Tucker, who seemingly had not cut on Embiid’s post-up the way the big man expected. Those kinds of brief discussions are preferable to ignoring all in-game issues, although the Sixers are, generally speaking, a team that’s repeated mistakes too often this season.They’ll hope that better health and more stability with the rotation soon corresponds with less need to address miscommunications, awkward spacing and frustrating turnovers. Of course, Rivers also plays an important role in identifying which miscues matter most and how the Sixers should fix them. 

Sunday’s game reinforced that Embiid can frequently render many of those broader concerns irrelevant. He stormed down the lane for a big dunk through contact, then sunk his free throw to put the Sixers up 59-49. The game after recording a 20-point period in the first quarter against the Lakers, Embiid did it in the second Sunday night. 

No fourth-quarter worries thanks to No. 21 

Melton also replicated some of his magic from Friday’s overtime win over the Lakers. 

Again, all the help defense Harden and Embiid draw led to lots of open shots for Melton. Though he didn’t break a bunch of career highs, he did nail four three-pointers in the third quarter and the Sixers stretched their lead to 19 points.

A true blowout was not in the cards because the Hornets kept pouring in points — 33 apiece in the second and third quarters. Rozier and Oubre were Charlotte's two main offensive threats and the Sixers couldn't fully neutralize either, though blitzing did bother Rozier at times. Defensive rebounding was a problem, too; the Hornets finished the game with 15 offensive boards. Kai Jones scored two and-one layups on Niang, who subbed out after 13 minutes of action with five fouls.

Charlotte cut the Sixers' advantage to 110-102 on a Rozier pull-up three. Whenever the Sixers sought a response, getting the ball to Embiid almost always led to a satisfying outcome. Even in light of the Sixers' recent late-game fragility, a Hornets comeback looked impossible as long as Embiid kept receiving touches. 

Between the 7:25 and 4:03 mark of the fourth quarter, Embiid notched 12 points and missed no shots. He was automatic in the mid-range, hit a jump hook over P.J. Washington, and made everything appear very easy. His top gear is a terror for Sixers opponents. 

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