November 22, 2019
There was little drama in Philadelphia's 115-104 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night, with the Sixers riding a balanced attack to the finish and earning one of their few wins of the year that didn't come with severe stomach churn.
Here's what I saw on Friday night.
• Everybody welcome back Furkan Korkmaz to the good side of the seesaw. Where will he end up on Saturday against the Miami Heat? Who knows! But the Sixers needed him to offer a little something on Friday, and Korkmaz sprinkled in just enough off-the-dribble bounce with his shotmaking to give Philly a lift.
Even his best nights are not going to look super pretty. He had one of the worst transition attempts the team has had all season late in the second quarter, and that's saying something on a team that has Matisse Thybulle on it.
That being said, Korkmaz is at least trying on defense and even succeeding at bothering guys at times. His lack of strength often dooms him anyway, but small improvements are still improvements.
• It was about time Al Horford delivered a complete game, and with Joel Embiid battling foul trouble for most of the night, he couldn't have picked a better time to get rolling a little bit. And really, that bout of foul trouble helped show everything Horford can do, provided he's not asked to play at power forward next to a post-up big and Ben Simmons simultaneously.
With more space to move around for everybody, Horford showed off the entire package, posting up smaller players, hitting cutters with some nice feeds from the high post, and even getting involved a bunch on the offensive glass, extending possessions which led to second-chance points for the Sixers.
He still isn't hitting threes, which unfortunately is a big problem when he plays in the normal starting lineup. But getting him going in any way needs to be a priority for Philly, so Friday was a good first step back toward normal Horford.
• A bit of overly simplistic analysis: Tobias Harris is just a completely different player when he's making threes. When teams aren't able to leave him alone and are forced to send hard closeouts at him, that's when Harris' game really starts to come to life and he looks like the player who the Sixers believe he can be. They certainly paid him to be that guy, anyway.
Where he has distinguished himself from last season (and really, the rest of his career) is on the defensive end, where his reads are sharper and his effort level is better than it has ever been. Harris looks like he has a much better grasp of when he needs to rotate and help on the backside, and even when it's not leading to turnovers, he has forced guards to pull the ball out and reset when it has looked like they had clear paths to the basket.
The Sixers' roster moves over the summer forced Harris to play more of a true wing role for this team, and I personally questioned whether he had the chops to play that kind of defensive role nightly. And while he's not the guy taking the toughest assignments, he has been a really important piece there as a communicator and a player capable of putting out fires.
You don't need every player on the roster to be a lockdown defender as long as they're engaged and linking the chain together. Harris has lived up to his offseason proclamation of wanting to improve on defense, and that will help him get by even when his shots aren't falling.
• Embiid's only real problem on Friday night was making sure he stayed in the game. Embiid missed most of the second quarter after picking up his third foul, and even prior to that moment, he was having to play some soft coverage against LaMarcus Aldridge, with the end of the first quarter turning into a back-and-forth battle between the bigs.
Aside from that, though, Embiid was basically pitch-perfect on offense for Philly. He didn't do anything complicated, just spending most of his time putting his ass into Aldridge's midsection or facing up to shoot jumpers over his counterpart. Embiid was basically automatic from midrange, and it carried the offense during their usual tough stretches.
Funny enough, it was also probably a good night for him to be in foul trouble if such a thing is possible. With Embiid scheduled to play in the second half of tomorrow's back-to-back against Miami, the extra time on the bench is a blessing in disguise.
• A weird Ben Simmons game, which I wouldn't necessarily categorize as good or bad, but our recap structure requires me to place his blurb somewhere. Simmons was instrumental in making sure the Sixers got out and ran on their stops, as he tends to be, and he threw some excellent outlets to Harris to get him rolling early.
On the other end, Simmons was also quite good, not quite picking up where he left off against the Knicks but playing the disruptive, athletic brand of defense we all know he's capable of. After he and James Ennis booted a potential defensive rebound in the fourth quarter, Simmons made a heroic one-man play and save in the corner to set Philadelphia on the fast break, cleaning up for the prior mistake.
But man, there are nights when Simmons' touch is just nowhere to be found, and Friday night was one of them. He flings shots up at the rim that never really have any chance of dropping, and there are really no swings from one side to the other within a game. Either you get good Simmons at the rim or bad Simmons at the rim, no in-between.
The Spurs sensed this and decided to go to Hack-a-Ben in the fourth quarter, but to Simmons' credit, he discovered enough touch at the stripe to dissuade them down the stretch.
• Three turnovers on your first four possessions of the game?
Lightheartedness aside, it's the team's insistence on trying to post up anytime they get a smaller matchup that was causing a lot of these. When you're Tobias Harris and someone like Dejounte Murray or Bryn Forbes gets crossmatched on you in transition, I get it, it's instinctual to want to leverage your size whenever you have the opportunity. But they cause themselves a lot of problems trying to force-feed their guys on the block.
You could say this problem might be alleviated by putting more guards on the floor — you know, the guys who can be trusted entry passes — but then you're not getting those cross matches in the first place. So either the super-sized lineup needs to do a better job of finding guys with entry passes, or they need to figure out a better style of play.
• Brown has been clear he doesn't want Matisse Thybulle to lose his aggression as a defender, but that doesn't mean he can turn into a headless chicken. Darting into passing lanes is one thing, leaving Marco Belinelli alone in the corner in a poor effort to surprise a ballhandler is another
The head coach let him know how he felt by sending him to the bench as soon as he could. Time and place for everything, rook.
• Trey Burke sure is good at getting shots up. Now imagine if he was just as good at making them.
I don't necessarily have a problem with Burke getting a healthy amount of shots up when he's in the game, that's sort of the reason you would play him over Raul Neto in the first place. But the trick is getting those shots without totally bogging down the offense, and Burke did that with some horrendous, overzealous isolation play on Friday night.
Pull-ups against drop coverage in pick-and-rolls? That stuff is okay. There's a definite middle ground here if Burke ends up being the team's selection at backup point.
• You already know what's coming here — zone defense sucks no matter who plays it. The Sixers have been folding some 1-3-1 into their defense lately, and even when it works, I don't have to like it.
The Spurs went to zone against the Sixers to open the fourth quarter, and on back-to-back plays, they gave up an open three and were forced to foul Harris on a cut they were completely unprepared for. Cowards get the fate they deserve.
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