More Sports:

January 10, 2024

Instant observations: Tyrese Maxey's late-game heroics not enough as Sixers fall to Hawks in OT

The Sixers hope Joel Embiid will return on Friday. But with him sidelined Wednesday night, they did not have quite enough to beat the Atlanta Hawks.

Sixers NBA
Maxey 1.10.24 Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

With reigning MVP Joel Embiid sidelined again, the onus was on Tyrese Maxey to lead the Sixers to victory in Atlanta Wednesday night.

Looking to avoid a three-game losing streak, the Joel Embiid-less 76ers flew to Atlanta Wednesday night for a matchup against the struggling Hawks. The Sixers failed to snap their skid, falling 139-132 in an overtime thriller. Here is what jumped out from the matchup:

Sixers fall in overtime

The Hawks looked like they were on the verge of a victory as the Sixers seemed to run out of gas in the fourth quarter. But Philadelphia stayed with it. It was a truly valiant effort, but when Young began facilitating at a high level and the Hawks knocked down some important shots, it seemed like this one was lost.

That's when Tyrese Maxey took over. 

With tough bucket after tough bucket – including multiple rim-rocking dunks and a step-back three – the fourth-year, 23 year-old guard brought it home. It was an epic showing in a season full of them for the All-Star candidate.

Unfortunately for Maxey and the Sixers, the Hawks had just enough ammunition left to come back and tie the game in its final seconds. The Sixers played like a team that earned a win, but had to go to overtime. There, they just did not have enough to close it out, particularly after Maxey fouled out with 1:44 remaining.

The Sixers hope to see Embiid return on Friday night when they host the Sacramento Kings. But what they had in this one was just not quite enough. They are 23-13.

Injury updates

Nick Nurse told reporters before the game that he is "hoping" Embiid is able to return to action in the Sixers' next game, a home matchup on Friday against the Sacramento Kings, according to Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

In related news, this was Embiid's ninth missed game of the season. In order to qualify for end of season awards such as MVP, a player can only miss up to 17 games. That means Embiid can only miss eight of the team's final 46 contests to qualify. As meaningful as a second consecutive MVP award would be for Embiid, it should go without saying that preserving his health for the playoffs is far more crucial.

Robert Covington missed this one due to a knee ailment, his fourth straight game on the shelf. Between his absences and unclear standing in rotation, Covington has not played more than five minutes in a game in nearly two weeks.

Not all of the Sixers' injury updates were negative: De'Anthony Melton, who missed the team's last three games with back soreness, returned to action Wednesday night and was reinserted into the starting lineup, and Tobias Harris, who missed Saturday night's loss, returned as well.

Scouting trade targets

Over the next month, the Sixers must not strictly pay attention to internal matters – they need to monitor the rest of the league looking for avenues to upgrade their rotation via trade. The Hawks are expected to be one of the league's most active teams, with several parts rumored to be available.

Dejounte Murray is the name that is floating around the most, as Atlanta's front office appears to be prepared to admit it made a mistake in trading three first-round picks for the former All-Star guard two summers ago. Murray's statistical profile is impressive – over the last three seasons, he is averaging 20.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game – but he is costly. The Hawks will request a hefty sum of assets in return, and then the team would be on the hook for Murray's contract that lasts four and a half more years, as he has a four-year extension that kicks in next season.

Perhaps the more cost-effective option is Bogdan Bogdanovic, a sharpshooter from downtown who has hit big shots against the Sixers many times before. Bogdanovic is one of the highest-volume three-point shooters in the NBA, a true sniper who combines versatility with accuracy to be one of the league's most valuable players from beyond the arc. The only issue with acquiring Bogdanovic would be that his contract – he is currently in year one of a four-year pact – may inhibit the Sixers' plans to enter the summer's free agency with significant cap space. Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey and his staff must decide whether or not he is good enough to scrap their cap space dreams for.

Paul Reed and Mo Bamba get into early foul trouble, Marcus Morris Sr. saves the day

The Sixers have often used backup centers who are foul-heavy. When they are backups, that is okay: Embiid always commands the vast majority of the minutes at the position, so his backups only need to play a relatively small amount of minutes and are not relied on at the ends of games.

But when those backups – in this case, Reed or Bamba – get into early foul trouble on a night when Embiid is unavailable, things become incredibly difficult for Sixers head coach Nick Nurse. Tonight, Nurse was presented an even tougher challenge: both of his centers picking up two fouls in the first quarter. Nurse was forced to deploy Marcus Morris Sr. at the five early on – and while Morris has struggled of late and is not a natural center, it may ultimately be a better option than using Bamba, who has struggled to string together more than a good play or two at a time. Morris capitalized on the opportunity by knocking down a handful of triples. He scored 13 points in the first half.

As Morey and co. evaluate the roster, adding another reliable center option might be appropriate.

Nic Batum and Jaden Springer contain Trae Young

Young, Atlanta's star floor general, has torched the Sixers on many occasions in the past. In this one, though, the Sixers entered intermission with a lead almost entirely because they were able to keep Young in check. In the first half, Young made just two of his nine shot attempts, shot only two free throws and committed three turnovers.

Despite Melton returning, it was Batum who was given the assignment to cover Young, and he did so excellently early on, pressing him across all 94 feet of the floor. When Batum needed a breather, Springer came in and held his own. Springer's defense continues to pop, but recently he has failed to stay out of foul trouble himself. In this one, he was able to be more disciplined.

Tobias Harris gives a much-needed spark

With Embiid unavailable and Maxey not on one of his ridiculous heaters, the Sixers needed some offensive punch from tertiary pieces. It was Morris who stepped up in the second quarter, and later on it was Harris who provided the Sixers with a major lift as a scorer. Harris had an effective combination of downhill attacking and mid-range jump-shooting that allowed him to impact the game at multiple levels. He finished with at least 30 points for just the second time this season.

More good minutes from Patrick Beverley

Finding an upgrade over Beverley once seemed like the most obvious way to improve this team's rotation. But for about a month now, Beverley has just been rock solid on both ends of the floor. He is finally starting to knock down shots from three at a decent clip, has a little floater game that he finds comfort with and is his usual pestering self on the defensive end of the floor. Between Beverley and Kelly Oubre Jr., Morey's front office absolutely crushed two of their veteran's minimum signings this past summer.