3 observations after stars, Melton lead Sixers past shorthanded Warriors

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The Sixers handled business against the undermanned Warriors and picked up a star-led fourth straight win on Friday night.

With a 118-106 victory over Golden State at Wells Fargo Center, the 16-12 Sixers reached their longest winning streak of the season thus far. 

Joel Embiid scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. James Harden recorded 27 points and nine assists. 

Warriors guard Jordan Poole had 29 points. Kevon Looney posted 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. 

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Andre Iguodala were sidelined by injuries. 

The Sixers were without Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) and Furkan Korkmaz (non-COVID illness). Tobias Harris was a late scratch because of back pain. 

The Sixers will next face the Raptors on Monday night in Philadelphia. Here are observations on their win over the Warriors: 

DiVincenzo comes out blazing, Sixers’ defense lax 

Villanova product Donte DiVincenzo essentially replaced Curry’s usual sharpshooting in the early going.

DiVincenzo made his first five three-point tries and Golden State began 9 for 10 from the floor, taking a 23-13 lead. The Warriors moved the ball very well and DiVincenzo obviously caught fire, but the Sixers didn’t provide much resistance. Harden in particular had too many delayed, short or non-existent closeouts. The Sixers don’t need Harden to be a defensive stalwart every second, but it was clear that at least running the Warriors off the three-point line and inviting them into the mid-range would’ve been preferable to how the team started on defense. 

Matisse Thybulle got the start and guarded Klay Thompson, though Danuel House Jr. subbed in after about five minutes. Returning from a three-game absence because of a left foot laceration, House’s first jumper was, without exaggeration, approximately four feet wide right. Fortunately, the shot fell into P.J. Tucker’s hands and he laid it in. Embiid also had a strange lowlight in the first quarter when he tried some sort of fancy, open-floor move and the ball flew out of his hands. 

Twenty-year-old Jonathan Kuminga defended Harden and aimed to pick him up high and bother the 33-year-old with legal physicality. Harden has seen that defensive approach many times and possesses the tools to score efficiently against any scheme when he’s flowing. He played the entire first period (as did Embiid) and notched 15 points, sinking a couple of step-back threes and also creating a bit of separation off the dribble against Kuminga before a goaltended layup. If not for Harden’s high-level shotmaking, the Sixers certainly would’ve trailed by more than five points after a poor defensive opening quarter. 

Poole can't carry Warriors 

Inevitably, the Warriors cooled off after beginning 10 for 14 from three-point range. They finished 17 for 43. 

Both teams had sloppy moments early in the second period. On a positive note, the Sixers’ second unit displayed defensive energy — Montrezl Harrell had an especially crowd-pleasing block on Poole — and ensured minutes with Harden and Embiid each on the bench were far from catastrophic. 

Harden was whistled for his third foul with 1:26 left in the second quarter on a Poole jumper. He was incredulous at the call, which Poole smartly sought out. In general, though, De'Anthony Melton and the Sixers guarded Poole effectively in the first half. Melton was good on the perimeter and Embiid provided valuable driving deterrence, in addition to rejecting Poole’s layup attempt at the second-quarter buzzer. 

The third quarter was a different story. After the Sixers went up 60-57 on an Embiid three, Poole drained three triples in slightly over two minutes. While Poole couldn’t keep cooking to that degree, he continued to trouble the Sixers. On an impressive play late in the third, he rejected a ball screen and darted into the middle for a layup. Thybulle registered a highlight of his own with 5.1 seconds to go in the third, swatting a Poole three right in front of the Sixers’ bench. 

Ultimately, the reality is Golden State was reliant on Poole and the Sixers' defense wasn't pushed to its limits. With that said, the Sixers bounced back well on defense overall. They also benefited from a 4-for-17 performance by Thompson.

The value of Melton's passing 

The Sixers lacked a true No. 3 option offensively. But, as the team knows, Melton is excellent at filling potential holes. He did that again in a 17-point, nine-rebound, seven-assist outing. 

Still, it was apparent the Sixers had to lean heavily on their stars and that most defenses remain content with Thybulle shooting jumpers. He missed two wide-open ones in the first half and Shake Milton began the third quarter in his place. Thybulle did make a timely corner three early in the fourth. 

Melton, who’d sat out Tuesday’s win over the Kings with a lingering back issue, was borderline brilliant in the third quarter. His willingness to fire threes was important, though his passing might have been his most impressive attribute Friday. The 24-year-old saved an after-timeout play by making a tough catch in the paint and kicking the ball out to Harden for a three. Melton also assisted an Embiid three and found the big man rumbling to the hoop from the high post. He's comfortable and productive in areas where guards tend not to be, and that's a key part of his passing skill. 

The Sixers started the fourth quarter without Embiid and looked at one stage like they might not require him for any tense minutes. Harden and Georges Niang drew fouls on three-point attempts and the Sixers extended their lead to 15 points. Golden State didn't accept defeat, though.

Naturally, Melton made big plays to help the Sixers avoid a serious Warriors comeback. He leaped high to snare a missed Harden jumper and converted a put-back layup. When he connected with Embiid on an alley-oop that put the Sixers up 112-99, it was obvious the team had another home win secure. 

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