Tyrese Maxey was the sole member of the Sixers’ opening-night starting lineup available Monday.
He was the only one they needed to beat the Kings.
Led by 24 points, four assists (and no turnovers) from Maxey, the Sixers improved to 10-8 with a 102-94 win in Sacramento.
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Joel Embiid missed his eighth game in a row after testing positive for COVID-19. Per The Athletic’s Rich Hofmann, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters Embiid has resumed working out at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey.
In addition to Embiid, the Sixers were missing Tobias Harris (left hip soreness), Seth Curry (back stiffness), Danny Green (left hamstring tightness) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons).
The Sixers will conclude their six-game road trip Wednesday night against the Warriors. Here are observations on their win over the Kings:
Still leaning on Maxey
Speedy Kentucky products Maxey and De'Aaron Fox (23 points) faced off. The matchup went on hold with 7:37 left in the first quarter, though, as Maxey was called for his second foul and forced to sit.
Fox was aggressive with Maxey off the floor, seeking out driving chances and contact, but relatively subdued after a strong start.
One aspect of Maxey’s dramatic improvement that’s encouraging in the big picture is he’s not reliant on three-point shooting. While he’d obviously be an even better player if he increased his three-point volume and managed to sustain a percentage around 40, he’s already so dynamic as a driver, so crafty as a finisher and so self-assured as a lead ball handler.
In short, if he goes through a jump shooting slump at some stage, it shouldn’t be anywhere near disastrous.
Part of the issue for the Sixers over the past few weeks is that the team has required Maxey to be close to perfect to win games. Monday's contest was a pleasant exception, though, as he had sufficient support.
Matisse Thybulle guarded Fox down the stretch but spent time on almost every Kings perimeter player, including Tyrese Haliburton (zero points on 0-for-5 shooting, nine assists) and Buddy Hield (21 points on 7-for-15 shooting).
“Just play hard," Thybulle said to reporters in Sacramento of his high-quality defense on Hield. “There’s no secret. With guys like that, one of his crazy skills is getting shots up. It’s weird to say that’s a skill, but he’s elite at it. For me, it was just play as hard as I could to always be in his path, in his shadow.”
In his second game back from COVID-19, Thybulle resumed his usual thievery with three steals, reminding anyone who’d forgotten that he’s a special defender. He also threw down two early dunks and was good cutting and running the floor, recording 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
Drummond has a massive impact
Andre Drummond did just about everything well besides score in his opening stint.
The Sixers ran much of their first-quarter offense through Drummond in the high post, and he was effective as a passer with teammates cutting and moving around him. There’s a fine line between scanning the court to identify a fruitful pass and derailing the rhythm of a possession, but Drummond struck a decent balance Monday night. Of course, the Sixers tend to welcome his playmaking more in these shorthanded spots.
Drummond also picked up three first-period blocks, denying backup big man Alex Len twice and swatting Harrison Barnes after he got free on an out-of-bounds play. He fared well throughout the night defensively.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, Drummond exited with four minutes left in the first after being assessed his second foul. He couldn’t wriggle free of foul trouble, staying on the bench for an extended stretch after picking up his fourth personal with 7:10 remaining in the third.
That meant more minutes than planned for Charles Bassey, who continued to impress with his leaping ability and sense of timing. He’s a developing player and makes occasional mistakes — this was likely his worst game of the past three — but Bassey possesses intriguing talent.
Bassey and Drummond combined to grab 30 of the Sixers’ 45 rebounds. Drummond’s 23 boards easily exceeded his total from the prior three games. Many of those rebounds were very valuable ones in the final minutes, too.
Regardless of who defended him, Richaun Holmes was efficient around the rim and with his push shot, posting 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting. He had to leave the game in the third period after being accidentally poked in the eye by Drummond but returned in the fourth.
Veteran Tristan Thompson replaced Holmes and was active and productive against youngsters Bassey and Paul Reed, chipping in eight points and seven rebounds in 11 minutes.
“Those early fouls I picked up, just being on the bench and then watching my team get outrebounded for that stint I was out, Tristan Thompson got a lot of those rebounds," Drummond said. “When I subbed back in, I walked past him. I said, ‘That s--- is dead. You’re not getting no more; that’s over with.' I don’t think he got another one since then. They had to sub him out. It’s just that mentality of wanting to get it every single time and helping my team get the best shot possible when I get that rebound.”
Milton big off the bench
Shake Milton made Sacramento pay for giving him space on the perimeter with a pair of first-period threes. He also was fine handling ball pressure from rookie Davion Mitchell, committing one turnover in his 36 minutes.
Milton wasn’t the only member of the Sixers’ four-man bench to provide needed offense in the first half. Isaiah Joe watched Hield catch fire late in the first period — Hield exploded for 14 points in the quarter and made all four of his three-point tries — but was helpful as a sharpshooter himself, too. The second-year guard gave the Sixers 11 points before halftime.
After 25 Sixers bench points in the first half, a Milton mid-range jumper with 4:34 left was the second unit's first bucket of the second half. The shot lifted the Sixers to a 91-90 lead, and Milton extended it with a fadeaway, shot clock-beating jumper on the team's next possession.
Milton finished the game with 16 key points, closed over replacement starter Furkan Korkmaz and was part of a lineup that sealed the victory with excellent late-game defense.