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November 19, 2023

Instant observations: Joel Embiid, Sixers dominate Nets, 121-99

Joel Embiid put up a game-high 32 points as the Sixers improved to 10-3.

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Joel Embiid 11.19.23 Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid continues to dominate opposing defenses with his scoring and passing.

The Sixers headed to Brooklyn for an afternoon matchup with the Nets on Sunday in their 13th game of the season, winning by a score of 121-99. Here is what stood out from the lopsided victory:

First Quarter

• The Sixers offense was excellent in the opening handful of minutes of the game, thanks in large part to terrific passing and ball movement. All nine of their first-quarter baskets were assisted, including a trio from Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid. Later in the quarter, though, the offense began to struggle. They were generating decent looks for the most part, but simply couldn't make them. 

• De'Anthony Melton was able to continue his offensive resurgence early on in this one, scoring eight first-quarter points – including knocking down two triples. While he still is struggling mightily inside the arc, his three-point shooting has quickly reverted back to last year's excellent numbers after a tough start to the season.

• Embiid was extremely aggressive early, taking 10 field goal attempts in the first quarter. Brooklyn's bigs, Nic Clayton and Day'Ron Sharpe, did a decent job dealing with the NBA's reigning MVP, but Embiid was able to score 13 points in the period.

Second Quarter

• Paul Reed has given the Sixers mostly great minutes at the backup center position over the last few weeks, but his first-half stint Sunday was less than stellar. Reed was 0-2 from the field, including missing a three-point try early in the shot clock that he simply should never be taking. The Sixers committed four fouls in the first few minutes of the quarter under his watch -- this is not entirely his fault, but it also is not an ideal development.

• Nic Batum returned to the lineup Sunday, being reinserted into the starting lineup. Batum knocked down a tough, on-the-move triple in the second quarter, once again flashing where he can provide value for the Sixers. He is not simply a good spot-up three-point shooter -- which would be more than good enough. He is also one of the fastest in the NBA to get his threes up, thanks to a brilliant release. He also is capable of knocking down movement threes like he did in Brooklyn, which unlocks entirely new possibilities for Sixers head coach Nick Nurse schematically.

• Upon returning to the game, Embiid got right back to work, ending the first half with 22 points on 17 shot attempts. He, Melton and Maxey dominated the second quarter, and combined to finish the first half with 48 points, 14 assists and 15 rebounds. It was an absolute clinic from the three of them, putting the Sixers up by a dozen at intermission.

• Speaking of Maxey, his passing continued to be excellent in the second quarter, when he often thrives. Maxey dished out five more assists in the period, finishing the half with eight. His rapid improvement as a playmaker and facilitator is perhaps the most impressive aspect of his excellent season.

MORE: A dozen Sixers thoughts after 12 games

Third Quarter

• Maxey started the third quarter on one of his outrageous heaters, knocking down three triples in five minutes. They all came off screen-and-roll actions between Maxey and Embiid, whose two-man game has become borderline unstoppable. Embiid's vertical gravity and Maxey's three-level scoring brilliance make the two nearly impossible to defend. Similar to last season's actions featuring Embiid and James Harden, the Sixers have their bread and butter established. That's not particularly common this early into the season.

• This Embiid passing leap feels very real. His assist numbers look the best they ever have, and that only improved Sunday with an absolutely dominant display of playmaking. He dished out four more assists in the third quarter, and all of them were impressive. Embiid's basketball IQ has always been outstanding, but the extent of this improvement as a passer is even surprising for him.

• Perhaps the biggest reason that the Sixers' execution was so crisp: they took care of the ball. The Sixers only committed three turnovers in the first three quarters of this game, despite racking up 24 assists. Their pristine ball movement and ball security were big reasons why they were able to run away with this game early in the second half.

Fourth Quarter

• In a sea of positive developments, one negative: Tobias Harris struggled mightily in this one, and for the first time all season failed to record at least 15 points. It was just one of those days: the looks were mostly there, the ball just would not go through the net. It should not be a cause for any real concern over Harris' play yet, as he was due for a game like this.

• Danuel House Jr. did not score much in this one, but he continued to build positive momentum after a standout showing in Atlanta. House was active, making himself involved everywhere. He knocked down a corner three, but also pulled three rebounds -- two of them being off the offensive glass -- and dished out three assists. Another solid night for the chaotic reserve wing.

• Embiid did not need to play in the fourth quarter at all, once again, giving him what he called earlier this month "old school load management." He only needed to play 31 minutes, a fantastic development – especially as he comes off the hip injury that had him on the injury report for a few consecutive games. He posted a phenomenal line in those minutes – 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Another casually brilliant display from Embiid.