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    Quick Six: Joel Embiid's 50-piece carries Sixers past Wizards

    Kyle Neubeck Avatar
    December 6, 2023
    Joel Embiid attacks against the Wizards.

    Joel Embiid dropped 50 points on the hapless Wizards on Wednesday night, earning the Sixers a 131-126 win they looked like they might throw away.

    Here’s what I saw.

    Joel Embiid, good as it gets

    On nights when you say things like, “Thank goodness the Sixers have Joel Embiid,” the hometown team is usually not up against a dreadful team like the Wizards. He doesn’t often have to produce a masterclass in order to beat a group like this wayward Washington outfit, but with very little help to open this game, the big man’s dominance was necessary.

    And it was clear from the opening possession that it was going to be one of those nights for Embiid. Poor Daniel Gafford has taken a beating in this matchup in the past, and Embiid was just bulldozing him to open this game. Gafford avoided picking up cheap fouls against the bigger man, but he conceded so much space and got blown back so easily that he might have been better off just trying to win the battle at the charity stripe. Before you could blink, he had scored a quick eight points by obliterating his first matchup.

    The Wizards would try to make it more complicated for Embiid from there. There was a healthy amount of 2-3 zone from the Wizards, which slowed down the other guys but didn’t do much to dent Embiid’s impact. Embiid has gotten much better operating against zone looks because all he has to do is get to his favorite spot on the floor around the free-throw line. If the entry pass is on target and the ball movement prior is sufficient, he’s either getting a clean midrange look or a quick hitter for an assist.

    Though he had a few too many turnovers during this game, that was less about Embiid reading the floor than just doing a bit too much. It’s hard to blame him for only trusting himself at times in this one. His touch was immaculate from all over the floor — he hit floaters, one-handed shots on leaners, turnaround jumpers, and when the shots weren’t going down, he decided that he would simply go right through Gafford, eventually putting him in the foul jail that we all expected when the night began.

    Rarely do you see a guy put up 45+ points and think that he barely had to try to do it, and I think if we’re being honest, Embiid tried a lot harder than it looked from outside the lines. You don’t just move guys back 15 feet and nail repeated, contested midrange jumpers without elbow grease. And this was not a game that would have been possible for Embiid as recently as, say, four years ago. His mastery of certain spots on the floor and his improvement against different defensive styles give him a chance to adjust depending on what the opponent throws at him, and you’re unlikely to get a better example of that fact than this game.

    Yuck, that shooting

    The big story through 24 minutes was Philadelphia’s heinous shooting performance. The Sixers were efficient from the field (mostly because Embiid was cooking) but ice cold from deep, 2/16 from outside on a lot of shots that never came close. Crediting them for two makes is almost misleading, as it took a desperation halfcourt heave from Tyrese Maxey to give them a second before the buzzer sounded for halftime.

    On some nights, I think you can see the impact of an Embiid-centric style on the rest of the group, which is to say it’s harder to get rolling if one guy is dominating time and touches. But Embiid didn’t just post up and hold the ball for 15 seconds at a time, with his scoring gravity sucking in defenders and opening up space for the rest of the group. They simply failed to take advantage of the good looks they were afforded, which you might just blame on the layoff.

    (I do not blame it on the layoff. These guys were missing glorified practice shots at times, you don’t need to be in great rhythm to make a handful of those.)

    Good god, that defense

    It feels important to distinguish between the outright bad defensive possessions in this game and the “you just have to live with this crap” possessions. There were quite a few midrange pull-ups for the Wizards in this game, and it felt slightly reminiscent of the Brett Brown era in Philadelphia, when they would allow guards to walk into low-value shots and expect the math to win out eventually. I’m not too pressed about Jordan Poole, Tyus Jones, and the rest of the gang canning pull-up twos, but that was far from the only issue.

    Philadelphia’s horrendous outside shooting had dire consequences in transition defense, with the long rebounds creating easier Wizards run-outs for open threes and occasional layups.

    Their biggest crime, however, was the high volume of miscommunications and blown assignments from guys all over the floor. It’s hard to pinpoint a single guy here because everyone had their issues throughout the evening. There was a mistake by Kelly Oubre, a lazy possession for Tobias Harris, a “stuck in the mud” stretch for Embiid. And god bless Tyrese Maxey, but he fell for every crossover Tyus Jones threw at him, going in the wrong direction to allow Jones to step into a series of open shots. They looked like a team that knew how bad the opponent was, put it that way.

    (Great for my case that the Sixers should trade for Tyus Jones, obviously, but not great for their overall defense.)

    Lineup headaches

    There are going to be some growing pains for Nick Nurse and the group as he tries to sort out a fully healthy rotation, but there was some real mismanagement in this game if you’re asking me. The Sixers played their starters for basically the entire first quarter, which led to some ugly combinations to open the second.

    It’s going to take some time to get the combinations that work, admittedly, but I continue to be confused at Marcus Morris’ place in the rotation when a kid like Jaden Springer can’t sniff playing time. On a night where Morris has it rolling from deep, I certainly understand rolling with a hot shooter, but he was dreadful in this game, forcing up long, contested twos for no reason other than the fact that he could. For that matter, why is Morris playing over Robert Covington, who has had good two-way outings recently? I guess Morris can dribble and offer some secondary creation, but I think if you’re asking him to create in 2023, you’re already in trouble.

    Anyway, that’s probably beside the point. Nurse needs to buy some earlier rest for guys like Maxey because they can’t end up in situations where there’s a lineup of all bench players. I stand by my belief that Embiid and/or Maxey should be on the floor at all times for Philadelphia, and I hope many of you are with me on that island.

    Welcome back, Kelly Oubre

    Kelly Oubre Jr. made his long-awaited return to the lineup, and for the better part of three quarters, he looked like a guy who hadn’t played basketball in a while. No shade, no reason to get worked up about it, it just kind of is what it is. There was probably some natural shooting regression coming either way.

    And then the fourth quarter started, and Oubre was basically the only thing Philadelphia had going. The Sixers needed to simply hang on in their minutes without Embiid on the floor, with Maxey dragging tired legs through a few minutes to open the fourth. Oubre was just the guy they needed — he scored on a continuation layup before cashing in a free-throw, had an emphatic putback slam, nailed a three above the break, and scored their first 10 points of the quarter, singlehandedly keeping the Wizards at arm’s length.

    Even before he got cooking, Oubre’s size and athleticism made a difference basically immediately, with Oubre scoring on a baseline cut early in his first stint. He had basically set up a residence along the baseline during the first few weeks of the season, and he got right back to work in his debut.

    The Wizards are so bad

    And I can’t believe that’s what it took to beat them.

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