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March 20, 2021

Instant observations: Shorthanded Sixers blow out the Kings to end homestand

The Sixers won their final game before a long road trip with a 129-105 victory over the Kings, falling in line behind Tobias Harris' game-high 29 points.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• Once the inactives for Saturday's night game were announced, there were a bunch of jokes tossed around on social media to the effect of, "Well, Tobias Harris better go for 40!" He may not have gotten there against Sacramento, but it's hard to find basically any fault in his performance as Philadelphia's alpha dog, with Harris absolutely dominating the Kings on his own.

Getting there was a different process than usual. Sure, Harris lived on a steady diet of his usual catch-and-shoot threes and pull-up shots from midrange, but with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons sidelined, it was up to him to attack the rim to make up for their absence. Harris did some of his best work as an attacker all year against the Kings, getting into the chest of Sacramento's shotblockers and scoring through or around outstretched arms. For most of the first half, it felt like he could do no wrong.

If it had been a close game, I imagine Harris would have gotten to whatever number he set his mind to. But he did something far more important, putting in a leading man's effort and buying most of their important rotation players extra rest on the front end of a back-to-back. As everyone saw in the loss to Milwaukee earlier in the week, 

We couldn't say this often last season for a variety of reasons, but games like these are why you pay a guy like Harris $180 million to stick around. He was the offense's guiding light (admittedly against a putrid Kings defense) who the rest of the group turned to when a possession fell to pieces or they were looking to stop a mini-run from Sacramento, and he came through for them basically every time.

• There have not been many moments this season where you could credibly say Danny Green was Philadelphia's best player on the floor. His time finally came in the first quarter of the win against Sacramento, with Green lighting up the Kings on one end and disrupting everything they tried to do on offense.

Green has picked a hell of a time to light it up from three, and I think his steady presence should not be discounted when we discuss the reasons for Philadelphia's success this season. When Embiid is leading them with a post-centric offense in the corner, Green is in the corner waiting to shoot a three. When Simmons is pushing the pace and collapsing the paint, Green is in the corner waiting to shoot a three. When they're down three starters and...well, you get the idea.

He has had more defensive issues than I expected coming into the season — Green's work against speedier guards has been pretty miserable — but he's a savvy team defender who is constantly where he's supposed to be, and he consistently blows up plays as a result. Green is the sort of guy who can make any defensive group just a little bit better, and the Sixers desperately needed that on Saturday.

• Some of Matisse Thybulle's defensive possessions absolutely defy belief. Perhaps one day we'll all grow spoiled from watching him produce highlights once or twice a night at a minimum, but for now, moments like these have to get you at least a little fired up.

Coming up with the block is enough on its own, but it takes terrific reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and body control to stay focused on the ball and save it for your team without falling out of bounds in the process.

The highlights aside, Thybulle's primary contribution to the game was his excellent defense against Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox. When the two teams met on the opposite coast earlier this season, Thybulle's second-half defense on Fox was a huge reason the Sixers escaped with a win. This time around, he got to take the assignment from the get-go to prevent Fox from getting on a roll in the first place. Rivers would move him around a bit as the game rolled on, sticking him on the white-hot Buddy Hield, 

• Shake Milton was just about the only guy on the roster who couldn't get it going early in this game. With Philadelphia off to a terrific start, their usual sixth man turned temporary starter was having a miserable time, opening 1/7 from the field and getting bulldozed at the rim on a few of those plays.

But there was something to be said for the process behind his attempts, and it eventually broke in his favor. Milton took advantage of some porous perimeter defense from the Kings and took their shot-blockers on head-on, as misses turned into free-throws drawn turned into a bit of momentum, and from there it was on for Milton, who eventually rolled to a tidy 20+ point performance.

• Tony Bradley and Dwight Howard get their work done in very different ways with very different lineups around them. They share one important thing in common — both guys run the floor and give their teammates targets to hit when the Sixers get stops and push the pace.

Bradley was the bigger beneficiary of his own hard work on Saturday night. With Simmons out due to knee soreness, Harris was often the guy who got to run the break for Philadelphia, and he kept calling Bradley's number when he would beat his man down the floor and/or seal them off in the paint. It was another ultra-efficient night for Bradley, who has had a bunch of those recently, and his ability to come out of cold storage to be an impactful role player has been a big reason they've survived key absences lately.

On the other hand, Howard is growing into his fan-favorite role at warp speed. By the time opponents attempt to prevent him from pulling down an offensive rebound, it is almost always too late. Howard is the guy with deeper position, the better hops to grab the rebound, and the more likely chance to draw a foul in the process. When he inevitably makes the play, he has also learned he has an audience ready to go nuts for him, and he is hamming it up whenever possible.

(Now if he had just avoided the goaltends on both ends on Saturday night...)

The Bad Kings

• You guys see the label change, I feel like I don't need to see any more than that. 

• Okay, so the all-bench/young guys group that closed the third and opened the fourth fit in this designation. Having to bring back the entire starting lineup with 10 minutes to play in the game qualifies as a missed opportunity.

It was nice to see Tyrese Maxey get some burn, with Philadelphia's promising rookie basically out of the rotation completely when they're fully healthy. And while he had himself a nice little evening on offense, he isn't exactly going to win his way back into the coach's good graces if he doesn't start defending better.

The Ugly

• Boy, I know the Kings entered this game with the worst defense in the league, but it really is remarkable how awful they are on defense. I suppose it makes enough sense — they are filled to the brim with guys who have little-to-no impact on the defensive end of the floor. It's a big reason I wouldn't read too much into this game from Philly's perspective, but good on them for taking care of business and kicking a bad team's ass the way they should have, injuries or not.

(I'm certainly not pinning this all on the former Sixers big man, but this has always been one of the issues with Richaun Holmes. Plays hard and is pretty damn good offensively, but his defensive instincts are as scatterbrained as it gets.)

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