3 observations after Sixers grind out win behind sturdy defense


The Sixers' lead, once as large as 21 points, was in jeopardy for much of the fourth quarter. They only shot 41.3 percent from the floor and didn't close the game in convincing fashion.

The bottom line for the Sixers Tuesday night, though, is that the team earned a tough victory in its final road game before the All-Star break. The Sixers pulled out a 109-102 win over the Raptors at Amalie Arena to improve to 21-11. 

Seth Curry (left ankle soreness) and Kyle Lowry (sprained left thumb) were both sidelined. 

Tobias Harris, who learned Tuesday that he missed out on the All-Star Game, led the Sixers with 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists.

Ben Simmons, an All-Star for a third consecutive season, posted 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Furkan Korkmaz started in Curry's place and scored 19 points. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid recorded 18 points, shooting 3 for 13, and had 12 rebounds. He hadn’t scored under 25 points in a game since Jan. 14.

The Sixers’ next game is Thursday against the Mavericks. Here are observations on their win over Toronto: 

Korkmaz’s instant impact 

A spot in the starting lineup was evidently enough to break Korkmaz out of the 3-for-21 shooting slump he’d been mired in as he knocked down his first two long-range tries. Though his rotation spot had appeared justifiably tenuous, with head coach Doc Rivers saying Sunday that rookie Isaiah Joe would get a “look,” Korkmaz has always been capable of scoring sprees and not bashful about firing away. 

He ended up with 16 first-quarter points on 4-for-6 shooting as the Sixers built a 37-18 lead. Korkmaz’s pump fake, a sneaky weapon last season, earned him three foul shots and produced a wide-open corner three after he sidestepped into his jumper with apparently boundless confidence. The same move freed him for yet another long-distance shot in the third quarter.

Defensively, Korkmaz remains a target for opponents, as was the case when Norman Powell gave the Raptors a quick four points against the 23-year-old during a third-quarter Raptors run. To Korkmaz’s credit, he picked up a charge shortly after on Powell and looked attuned to his defensive responsibilities throughout the night. 

Korkmaz’s dependability is still dubious, but his early flurry changed the dynamic of the competition for wing bench minutes. Joe only played four minutes and shot 0 for 2.

Mike Scott was back in the mix Tuesday, recording three points and five rebounds in 12 minutes, while Tyrese Maxey again didn’t play. Shake Milton provided 11 points and two assists in his second game back from a left ankle sprain. 

What to make of Embiid’s off night 

Embiid scored on his first touch after sealing deep in the paint. His night went south from there, though, as he missed his next nine field goals in a showing that was somewhat reminiscent of his scoreless game against the Raptors in 2019.

Toronto again double teamed Embiid well, often either forcing him to relinquish the ball immediately or take a rushed shot. They had several effective sneak attacks, too, with players like Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell catching Embiid off guard by sending late help from unpredictable angles. Still, Embiid and the Sixers hurt themselves by playing sloppily at the end of the first half, lacking the sharpness they’d shown in the opening period. 

While Embiid has returned to earth after scoring a career-high 50 points last week against the Bulls, Tuesday’s contest is not a sign that there’s anything profoundly wrong with his game. It is an indication that he still has work to do when facing aggressive, persistent double teams. 

There’s nothing wrong with him looking to make the simple pass and letting his teammates profit from the attention he draws. Given the Raptors’ approach, though, that’s easier said than done. Embiid didn’t have much time to think or identify where his outlets were in Tampa Bay. 

Grinding out a defensive win 

The Sixers won a physical, sometimes testy game because of their high-level defense.

Toronto shot just 43 percent from the floor and 29.7 percent from three-point range. Like the Sixers on Sunday, the Raptors missed some open looks they’d typically expect to make. Every Sixer who played was engaged defensively, though, and Matisse Thybulle was a standout with three blocks.

Not every win is going to be pretty, but the Sixers will likely need to come out on top in these types of games once the playoffs arrive. Harris' fourth-quarter scoring was crucial on a night in which Embiid wasn't the Sixers' typical go-to option. Harris showed why an All-Star selection certainly would've been merited.

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