More Sports:

March 13, 2021

Instant observations: Sixers top Wizards despite Joel Embiid's injury exit

The Sixers thrashed the Wizards 127-101 on Friday night, but the big story coming out of the game will be the knee injury suffered by Joel Embiid, who exited the game after a scary fall in the third quarter.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• It still hasn't really taken hold for me that Joel Embiid is just this good now. He didn't feel like he was having an especially good first half on offense — there were some bad spells of overdribbling against Moe Wagner in the post — and still managed to put up 19 points on excellent efficiency. And oh yeah, there were highlights of this quality:

The season he is having is absolutely preposterous. He has been so good on offense that we have rarely talked about how impactful he has been on the defensive end of the floor. Embiid erased 3-4 would-be baskets for Washington all by himself in the first half, swooping in at the last minute like a screaming pterodactyl. You would think it would be hard for the biggest guy on the court to hide, but you would be wrong.

(An unpopular opinion this year: Simmons may be their "best" defender in the sense that he can guard more positions well, but Embiid is still their most important defender by a decent margin. He is a ticket to respectability all by himself.)

And then, well, we'll get to the bad stuff further down.

• Is there a basketball equivalent of a wide receiver hitting the practice field and hitting the JUGS machine for hours on end? It feels like that's what Matisse Thybulle did during the All-Star break. His timing in passing lanes has been exceptional in their first two games of the second half, and boy would it be a good time for him to hit and sustain a new level in his second year.

Thybulle is settling into the perfect middle ground as a defender: disciplined enough to check top options, chaotic enough to surprise teams and pick them off in passing lanes. He had two beautiful "pick-sixes" in the first half, with one coming on a possession where he made a ridiculous contest on a corner three earlier in the possession before eventually coming up with the steal and dunk. 

This is one of my favorite sequences of the whole damn season so far:

His shooting will ultimately determine the size of the role he can play in the postseason, but he'll be hard to keep out of the rotation no matter what as long as he's locked in like this. When a guy who is normally a bench player is giving you this sort of juice, you're a dangerous bunch.

• It's hard to say enough about the tenacity the Sixers have come out of the All-Star break with. Every single guy came back from the layoff ready to roll. They are competing hard defensively, executing well in the halfcourt, and getting contributions from players up and down the roster, and did so during the second half of a back-to-back to boot.

This group had excuses to look sluggish coming out of the layoff. They were missing their two best players for the second-half opener. They were missing their coach for the only practice they had over the week off, with Doc Rivers sick and posted up in his hotel room in Chicago. They set all that aside and put in two excellent team performances.

(That goes double when you consider that they had to shake off their best player's scary fall and departure from the game in the third quarter. Soldiering on after that play is much easier said than done.)

I don't have enough confidence in the roster to say they have "The Look" or whatever you want to call it, especially with Embiid's health now in doubt, but they are building championship habits.

• I'm curious what sort of looks we might see more of in the second half of the season now that this group has had more time to work under Rivers. I get a feeling we'll see more variations of pick-and-roll, which should hopefully get guys like Shake Milton rolling.

This performance from Milton is a good example of why I'd like to see the Sixers go out and get a legit ball-handler to fill out the rotation. He has so much to his game that he can't really get to when he's simply the lead ball-handler for the second unit — you can use him as a standstill shooter, run him off screens, he's a weapon on the baseline, you can basically stick him in any lineup imaginable and he'll fit in.

And yeah, Milton deserves his fair share of touches on-ball in pick-and-rolls as well. He has good chemistry with Dwight Howard and has plenty of pull-up ability to make things happen with a bit of separation.

Now just imagine him with another guard who can create some easy looks for him so that all of his offense doesn't have to be self-created.

• I am starting to go the other way reacting to Dwight Howard's foul-heavy style. Yeah, it can be kinda infuriating to watch from time-to-time, but the vast majority of these plays are just Howard playing hard and trying to set a physical tone. I think you take that and try to get everything out of it that you can.

The Bad

• The all-bench group was (predictably) not all that good against the Wizards, but the impact of that was muted and most of those guys were fine in blended lineups. Not going to give them a hard time with the way they've come out firing out of the break.

The Ugly

• Everything good that happened in this game basically doesn't matter if Joel Embiid is seriously hurt. It would be cruel if such a terrific highlight was ultimately the cause of a long-term issue, but Embiid's third or fourth poster dunk of the game led to this scary fall:

Embiid was eventually able to flex the left knee and walk to the sideline gingerly, retreating to the tunnel for the final time of the evening. It's too soon to know how bad he's hurt — and he has overreacted to some otherwise inconsequential falls in the past — but here's hoping it's not as bad as it looked.

• Don't quote me on this because I'm not sure what the actual stats say, but Furkan Korkmaz has to have one of the worst floater/runner packages in the league. He doesn't just miss his attempts on the move, he's air balling shots from like 8-10 feet out. His improvements running pick-and-roll have been encouraging, but man does he need some time in the gym working on his in-between game.

• Good god, Moe Wagner flops a lot. I would give him a pass for having no better options against Embiid, but he wasn't just flopping while defending the big guy. Sad stuff.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Subscribe to Kyle's Sixers podcast "The New Slant" on Apple, Google, and Spotify