The Sixers won a fantastic duel Sunday afternoon in Chicago between Joel Embiid and DeMar DeRozan.
Despite DeRozan’s 45 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, the Sixers improved to 32-21 with a 119-108 win over the Bulls at United Center.
Embiid had 40 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Chicago’s Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr. and Patrick Williams were all out with injuries.
The Sixers were missing Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder soreness) and Shake Milton (back contusion). With one game remaining before the trade deadline, Ben Simmons has yet to play for the Sixers this season.
The team’s final contest before Thursday’s deadline will be a Tuesday night matchup with the Suns in Philadelphia. Here are observations on their win over Chicago:
Embiid still loves facing Bulls
Embiid was tremendous early on. He made his first five field goals, including a coast-to-coast layup punctuated by a Euro step, and scored 10 of the Sixers’ first 12 points.
Even though he does it so consistently — Sunday’s performance was Embiid’s 20th straight with 25 or more points — his array of moves is still occasionally stunning. In the second quarter, Embiid dribbled the ball from end to end, sidestepped Nikola Vucevic and threw down a dunk. He nailed a step-back three over Vucevic with 33.2 seconds to go before halftime.
One defining trait for Embiid as he’s grown into one of the sport’s best players is how excellent centers appear borderline ordinary when they face him. Vucevic seemed seriously overmatched against Embiid in the first half. He got rolling a bit in the third quarter, though, and ended with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Embiid, who passed Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time Sixers scoring list with a fourth-quarter layup, is now 10-0 in his career against the Bulls.
A strong Maxey afternoon
Late in the first quarter, Tyrese Maxey hit one pull-up three-pointer going to his right and another going to his left.
He ran the Sixers’ offense nicely, getting Embiid touches when the big man was hot. Maxey accepting the chances to take open threes is great, too. Each team will have its own game plans, but we figure opponents might start hedging and blitzing Maxey more regularly in pick-and-rolls if he continues to prove he'll take and make pull-up jumpers.
Furkan Korkmaz’s return from a three-game absence with left knee soreness was helpful in that it meant Maxey wasn’t forced to be the Sixers’ exclusive second-unit point guard. Though Maxey isn’t bad at that job and will surely fill it at times down the line, he deserves heavy minutes with Embiid and the Sixers’ best players.
Korkmaz posted nine points in his 17 minutes. The injury-depleted Bulls were not especially deep and only scored 10 bench points on a collective 2-for-14 shooting effort.
Meanwhile, behind Embiid’s dominance, the Sixers’ opening-night starters began well. The team made 19 of its first 33 field goals and built a 15-point lead in the second quarter.
Maxey guarded Ayo Dosunmu and helped limit the rookie to eight points on 3-for-7 shooting and seven assists. (To Dosunmu’s credit, his one first-half field goal was a fearless dunk on Andre Drummond.) Maxey was solid defensively and turned in a good overall performance with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, six assists and three steals.
Sixers survive The DeRozan Show
DeRozan and Embiid traded baskets during an entertaining stretch in the second quarter.
The Bulls were highly dependent on DeRozan, but he kept them close with his trademark mid-range brilliance. He also hurt the Sixers when they blitzed, quickly passing to the open man and creating odd-man situations in Chicago's favor. That seemed to deter the Sixers from sending aggressive help; the team hedged ball screens often, but much of defending DeRozan fell on Tobias Harris.
Harris cracked a smile in the midst of his challenging afternoon after slamming an and-one dunk over Javonte Green. He scored 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting and provided a few important baskets in the fourth quarter during a Chicago surge.
DeRozan set an impossibly high bar for himself with exactly half of the Bulls’ 52 first-half points, but he just about met it after intermission. The Sixers tightly contested many of his jumpers, but the All-Star forward looked comfortable at any spot inside of the three-point line. Remarkably, he didn’t attempt a long-distance shot until the fourth quarter.