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The Sixers handed the Lakers an absolute beatdown on Monday night, riding a Joel Embiid triple double and an onslaught from three to a 138-94 victory over L.A.
Here’s what I saw.
— After Paul Reed lit a fire under Anthony Davis at Monday’s shootaround, you had to be prepared for an initial onslaught from Joel Embiid’s primary matchup. And the Lakers certainly came out like a team ready to prove a point, playing through Davis as he hit midrange jumper after midrange jumper to start things off.
The good news for the Sixers is that Embiid must have heard what Reed said about his counterpart, and he came out ready to battle from the opening tip. Maybe that was always going to be the case against another elite big, but whatever inspired him to come out hot, it sure as hell worked.
It was one of the more complete halves I can remember Embiid playing this season, even if he had to take his foot off of the gas a bit on defense to avoid a third foul. I am usually not an advocate for Point Embiid, as it leads to some heinous turnovers and too much dribbling from the big man. But with the Lakers backing off of him and giving him room to gather and assess, it turned into an absolutely sensational passing game.
He made the easy ones — like a pair of kick-outs to De’Anthony Melton on the wing early in the third — but he also threaded some beauties through traffic, including one that Tyrese Maxey smoked at the rim in shocking fashion. It led to him getting a bit too adventurous as the game wore on, but so it goes.
More importantly, I thought he leveraged his size and strength advantage over Davis, Christian Wood, and Jaxson Hayes as well as he has in any matchup this season. He moved Davis off of his spot basically whenever he wanted, creating space to hoist short middies or drawing help from other Lakers. He was a huge pain in the butt on the glass, too, creating second-chance opportunities by attacking the ball as it came off of the rim instead of simply hoping it would settle somewhere near him. Even with those two early fouls, he blocked Anthony Davis so hard in the first half that you could hear the smack on the ball echo in the back of the media section (and from what I was told, it came through over the rim mics on the broadcast).
By the time he checked out of the game at the end of the third quarter, he had a 30-point triple-double on hyper-efficient shooting from the field, making 9/15 while controlling everything else. It was an absolute masterclass and a reminder of just how dominant this guy can be at his best.
— Mercy me, Tyrese Maxey (and the team around him) finally realized that he was allowed to begin attacking in the first quarter. It’s an early Christmas miracle. Young Maxey walked into the tunnel at halftime with 20 points already in the bank, a considerable improvement on his slower, less aggressive approach to the beginning of games.
Some of that is owed to a change in the rotation. Nick Nurse is pushing Maxey hard with his minutes count, and despite having him run the backups to open the second quarter, he also played with Joel Embiid in the dying minutes of the first. With Patrick Beverley coming in to play nominal point, the Sixers ran Maxey through some new actions, including one they went back to several times, with No. 0 shooting from the trail spot after curling around screens near the elbows.
It’s a high-difficulty shot, given the velocity he was at when he was catching passes/handoffs up there, but Maxey is such a high-level shooter that the Sixers can ask him to do nearly anything beyond the arc and feel good about it. Critically, he just got a lot of shots up — Maxey was 4/8 from the three-point line at halftime, with the flurry of attempts almost as important as the makes.
It is worth noting that Maxey slowed down after halftime, though I think that said more about the groove Embiid was in than anything. But when you do your work early, you don’t need to come up with any heroics in the second half. And Maxey made light work of the Lakers’ backups to open the fourth, putting this one to rest so that Embiid could get a bit of R&R on the bench.
— Patrick Beverley’s stint with the Lakers was bad enough that he got hearty boos from the people in purple in gold at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday. And his former team definitely checked the scouting report on Beverley coming into the game. He has shot the ball poorly all season, and they decided they’d aggressively sag off of him to put out fires elsewhere.
One problem with that strategy — Beverley caught fire in the first half, thriving off of the disrespect by hitting a trio of triples. And outside of knocking down those shots, I thought he did a good job of navigating that additional space, probing the L.A. defense a bit before drawing a bit of help and finding an open shooter. Marcus Morris got a quality look on the wing in the first half thanks to Beverley, with the contesting player further away as a result of the sagging strategy.
Speaking of Morris, the vet forward was on a heater of his own in this one, looking to prove a point of his own a day after he told reporters he’d returned home expecting to play a different role. Given a chance to play real minutes by Nick Nurse over the last week, Morris has at least lived up to his end of the bargain as a shooter, working himself into a rhythm over the last three games. If Morris can discover some form of defensive consistency, he might just stick in the rotation. He’s certainly sticking there if he shoots the lights out.
— On the whole, the Sixers were just the sharper, harder-working team in this one. Some of that was probably due to how well they shot throughout the first half, as the Lakers dropped off something fierce once they got hit with an avalanche of threes. But the level of connectivity for Philly was as good as it has been in a couple of weeks, with most of their role players working in unison throughout the night to batter L.A.
It was another nice outing for De’Anthony Melton, who had a bunch of “grit and grind” type plays that would make his former Memphis franchise proud. He mixed it up with bigger players in pursuit of rebounds, deflected several attempted entry passes from Lakers perimeter players, and helped ward off the early second-half run from the Lakers.
Nic Batum hit a pair of threes, but what I loved seeing from him was the connective passing on the perimeter. His reads there were as quick as his shot release, with Batum receiving multiple kickouts and firing the pass to the next man over before the Lakers had time to react to Batum having the ball in the first place.
There were Robert Covington offensive rebounds, dogged defense from Pat Bev along the sideline, and a lot of good vibes. The Sixers have had better wins, but this was probably their most complete performance of the season.
— The Sixers relied on a very clear strategic wrinkle against the Lakers for a lot of the first half, betting that their iffy shooters would not punish them if they allowed them to bomb away from the corners. That turned out to be a smart gambit. If you could choose, wouldn’t you rather see a Jaxson Hayes three than Davis or LeBron attacking in the middle of the floor?
— Mo Bamba continued the destruction with some good minutes in garbage time, for whatever that’s worth. Good work, my friend.
— Only a real sourpuss would complain about anything from this game.
— I just want to say thank you to the Lakers for wearing their gold/yellow jerseys for this game. I still haven’t stopped being mad about them coming into Philadelphia wearing blue jerseys a few years back, a crime against basketball that has never been properly punished.