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The Sixers scratched Joel Embiid late and the rest of the team effectively followed suit, losing 124-114 to the Pelicans in a game that was basically out of reach the whole way.
In lieu of the usual observations, we’re going to run through six things that stood out above the rest.
No Embiid? No defense
The Pelicans haven’t been world-beaters this year, but they have plenty of raw talent. And without Joel Embiid on the back end, Zion Williamson was going to be a pain in the ass to cover driving to the basket.
The decision to start Marcus Morris basically conceded the ability to protect the rim from the get-go, and so the Sixers sent lots of help toward Williamson when he beat their perimeter defense (something that happened far too often). Williamson has long been a talented passer, particularly when he has a spread out floor, and the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of threes early thanks to Zion’s drive-and-kick game.
(If you’re expecting me to kill Nick Nurse for starting Morris, I can’t say I have a lot of energy for it. Morris was roughly as bad as the rest of the non-Reed options they had there, and the head coach has clearly been reluctant to take Reed out of his usual backup role. If Morris had made some open threes, they could have at least tried to turn this into a shootout, I suppose. The rest of their bigs got rag-dolled by Jonas Valanciunas, so can’t say a different option would have turned the tide.)
What Nurse and the team deserve scorn for is the lack of a coherent plan without Joel Embiid. The Pelicans blitzed them in the opening minutes and left them with zero chance to win this one after roughly six minutes of game time, which is basically the same thing that happened against Minnesota. It was easy to write that off as the product of a rough back-to-back, but no such luck in this one.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Perhaps their defense would have looked better if Philadelphia had taken care of the ball. The Sixers had 14 turnovers at halftime and continued coughing the ball up throughout the night, giving the Pelicans repeated opportunities to dice them up on the break.
Name a type of mind-numbing turnover, and the Sixers likely made it. Tobias Harris threw two of the worst, weakest passes I have ever seen on an NBA floor, leading to Pelicans runouts that ended with a basket and a take foul in either half. We’ve talked a lot about Harris’ ability to scale up when the team is shorthanded, but this is the other side of the coin — there’s a reason he tends to get pushed down the pecking order by better players on a good team. High volume can be dangerous for him.
When you can’t defend or take care of the ball, it’s tough to win games on the road, even against mediocre teams.
Mixed night for Maxey
We discussed Tyrese Maxey’s elite fit alongside Joel Embiid in our off-day podcast on Tuesday. Everything from that episode still stands, and I believe he may well be the best partner Embiid has had. That being said, there are some obvious issues when he doesn’t have the big dude to play off of. Namely, his ability to create for others has not been as clear as when he has the threat of Embiid to sell opposing defenses.
The first half was ugly for Maxey, who drove into crowds and contributed to that terrible turnover problem the team had. It’s not his fault that he was the only capable ballhandler on the roster all night, which led to the Pelicans selling out against him in the middle of the floor. But the Sixers needed him to make up for Embiid’s absence by balancing scoring and playmaking, and he only did half of the job.
At least Maxey provided some entertainment value in the third and fourth quarters with a scoring barrage, and when he was able to take care of the basketball, he had some beautiful finishes around the basket. I liked the three-point volume, if not the efficiency, but certainly not his best outing.
KJ Martin’s first real chance
KJ Martin got his first opportunity to play first-half minutes in this game, and while he had his moments, it was sort of clear why he hasn’t been in the rotation up to this point.
Just like his father, Martin’s athleticism leaps off of the screen whenever he’s on the floor. But he hasn’t found a productive (or at least consistently productive) way to use those tools just yet. He was unfortunate to get called for offensive interference on a great putback finish in the first half, and gave back any goodwill from that play with a silly goaltend on defense later in the game, tossing a shot away that was clearly over the rim already. And his awareness on defense came and went during his time on the floor, with Martin getting beat on cuts at least a few times.
Don’t expect we’ll see him again soon, but not like he was the only guy to struggle.
Batum exits in the third
Perhaps the only meaningful thing coming out of this game is that Nic Batum re-injured the finger that he jammed earlier this season at some point in the third quarter. Batum was quickly ruled out for the rest of the game, which doesn’t tend to be a great sign for the future.
Player of the game?
Derek looked at me at one point in the third quarter of this game and asked, “Robert Covington player of the game?” and his justification for asking the question was that he was the only guy on the floor who hadn’t pissed him off.
I suppose that sums up the game all by itself.