Sixers observations

3 observations after Harris' stellar night helps shorthanded Sixers top Raptors 

The Sixers moved to 20-8 ahead of their Christmas game in Miami.

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Tobias Harris played his best game of the year and the shorthanded Sixers avoided a letdown loss Friday night, overcoming a slow start to earn a 121-111 win over the Raptors at Wells Fargo Center.

Harris posted a season-high 33 points, a season-best seven assists and eight rebounds.

The Sixers improved to 20-8. They were down Nicolas Batum (right hamstring strain), De’Anthony Melton (left thigh contusion), Patrick Beverley (right heel soreness) and Mo Bamba (illness).

Joel Embiid had 31 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks. He stretched his streak of consecutive 30-point games to 14. 

Tyrese Maxey recorded 33 points and 10 assists.

Pascal Siakam scored 31 points and Jakob Poeltl tallied 19 for the Raptors, who fell to 11-17.

The Sixers' next game is a Christmas matchup against the Heat on Monday night. Here are observations on their victory Friday over Toronto:

Subpar start, injury scare for Embiid 

The Sixers’ makeshift starting lineup was Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Harris, Marcus Morris Sr. and Embiid. That unit struggled in its opening stint and the Sixers trailed by 13 points by the time they turned to their bench.

Embiid didn’t immediately carry over the 51-point form he showcased in an impressive win Wednesday night over the Timberwolves. In fact, Raptors big man Poeltl scored 10 points before Embiid had any. Siakam racked up 14 first-quarter points and drew six free throws over the first six minutes. 

The Raptors sent their usual double teams at Embiid and he couldn’t manage to put much early pressure on Toronto’s defense. A loose handle on the perimeter also led to two of Embiid’s four first-period turnovers. Those giveaways contributed to several early leak-out buckets by the Raptors.

The Sixers’ defense wasn’t very effective in the half court either. They allowed frequent blow-bys and had plenty of lax moments. Siakam snuck backdoor past Morris and converted an easy lay-in. 

Following a Poeltl reverse layup, Embiid went down to the floor in apparent pain with 5:25 left in the first quarter and limped off to the sidelines. However, he returned to the court after the Sixers’ timeout. 

According to Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, Embiid turned his ankle and played through some soreness.

“It’s fine,” Embiid said. “We’re going to have to check on it. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

The reigning MVP remaining in the game was a welcome sight for the Sixers, but there wasn't much else for Embiid or the team to feel good about in the first quarter.

A tremendous Harris first half 

Harris was undoubtedly the Sixers’ main bright spot in the first half.

He scored 18 points on 6-for-6 shooting over the first 14 minutes, including two catch-and-shoot threes, an and-one transition layup, and a confident step-back jumper. 

Although he eventually cooled off, Harris continued to make sound decisions and was largely responsible for the Sixers staying afloat despite Embiid’s uncharacteristic start. During a strong playmaking stretch in the middle of the second quarter, Harris drove in from the right wing, spotted Oubre’s cut along the left baseline, and dished to him for a dunk. He also threw an excellent hit-ahead pass to Embiid seconds after grabbing a defensive rebound, setting the star big man up for a layup. 

Harris’ fourth three-pointer knotted the game at 54-all late in the second quarter. He then gave his team the lead when the Sixers ran an early-season favorite action for Harris, having him bring the ball up and use a Maxey back screen out of a Horns set. Here’s what it looked like when the Sixers hosted the Trail Blazers: 

On Friday night, the action initially appeared to get Harris a favorable switch against Raptors point guard Dennis Schroder. Toronto belatedly tried to fix that issue, but Embiid hit Harris inside for an and-one layup. 

The Sixers entered halftime with a three-point edge and Harris’ stat line was sparkling: 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists. 

“I thought early on, I was just taking what was presented,” Harris said. “I was able to hit my first three and get out in transition, use defense to fuel transition offense. And then from there, just getting a rhythm in the offense of catching and shooting, being able to put it up and live with the result. ... I thought Joel did a great job of pushing me and getting me in a lot of actions with him tonight.

“And he was really emphasizing and telling me, ‘Just let it go. If I come for pick-and-rolls with you, let it fly, however they play their coverage.’ Being out there with him and Tyrese, when we get that basketball moving from side to side and we get some actions out there, it helps us as a whole group. We were able to find a good balance in the offense there in the first half, and then all the way throughout the game.” 

Fourth-quarter Maxey helps Sixers avoid late drama 

With the Sixers missing three regulars, Nurse reinserted Furkan Korkmaz into the Sixers’ rotation and asked the 26-year-old wing to provide a bit of ball handling off the bench. 

Danuel House Jr., Robert Covington and Paul Reed were the only other Sixers bench players to appear (before garbage time) as the team leaned on its core healthy pieces.

The Sixers' starters were much better to open the third quarter. Maxey did nice work both attacking downhill when bigger players switched onto him and spraying the ball out to open shooters. He assisted a Harris three that put the Sixers up 76-66.

While Embiid seemed like he wasn't quite right physically, grimacing and moving uneasily on occasion, he generally played his normal, superstar-level game over the final two and a half quarters. He surged into top gear during the back half of the third quarter, scoring 17 points over the period’s final 5:48. 

The Sixers had a rough finish to the third, however, playing sloppily on both ends. House drove baseline and committed a turnover that created a Toronto fast break and Siakam slam. 

Maxey, Harris and the Sixers' bench restored a more comfortable lead with tremendous play to begin the fourth quarter. Reed pulled off one of his strange-rhythm, Euro-stepping layups. An Oubre steal created a Harris fast-break dunk.

Maxey was sensational in the fourth before Embiid checked back in. He beat one possession of Toronto zone by slicing through the middle and hitting a floater. On another trip, he buried a catch-and-shoot three from the wing.

“Honestly, I know (early in the fourth quarter) is when Joel goes his rest. ... My teammates and coaching staff, they really look to me at that time to not just score for myself, but also run the team, get guys involved, make sure guys are in the right spots,” Maxey said. “I feel like the preparation I’ve put in, all the time, it shows. I just go out there and try to be extremely aggressive, help us get Ws.” 

There was minimal suspense over the final minutes as the Sixers polished off a 20th win.

Christmas in Miami awaits.

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