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Joel Embiid dominated the Nets with key contributions from Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton, with the Sixers coasting to a 121-99 win in Brooklyn.
Here’s what I saw.
— There aren’t many players who can put up 22-8-5 in a half and have you feeling like they left some money on the table. So goes the story of Joel Embiid, who is capable of dominating smaller teams so effortlessly that it often looks like he hardly has to try.
Embiid was just about all they had going/working early in this game, with the group taking a bit to settle in for a 3 p.m. game on the road. It didn’t end up mattering much — he had the full arsenal going in the first half, banging home trail threes while registering a few “too big, too strong” moments around the basket. Nic Claxton is one of the league’s most versatile switch defenders, but it’s just impossible for him (and certainly Day’Ron Sharpe) to match Embiid step for step on the block or on the glass.
There were moments where he just looked to be playing at a completely different level and speed than everyone else. Sharpe was drawn out to Embiid on the three-point line at one point in the first half, and No. 21 just glided to the rim for two, sliding past his man and finishing with ease at the hoop.
One thing you always love to see from the big man is some urgency in transition because if he ends up with a cross-match, you can forget about hoping to stop him without fouling. And though Embiid has toyed with the idea of jumbo point guard a bit too much already this season, he made some excellent reads throughout this game, including on a beautifully threaded pass to De’Anthony Melton to cap off a run late in the second.
That trend continued in the second half, with Embiid urging Tyrese Maxey to hunt his shot and capitalize on the space the Nets were giving him in actions with the big man. It took just one shot in the third quarter going down for Maxey to find his shooting boots, and by the time the Nets called a timeout midway through the third, Embiid ball screens and handoffs with Maxey had increased Philadelphia’s lead to 19 points. One of the best parts of this season has been watching Embiid identify a Maxey heater in real-time, ceding control of the offense to his running mate for the betterment of the team.
I’m not sure if this is a hot take, but I don’t think Embiid has had a better partnership than the one he has with Tyrese Maxey right now. He bludgeoned opponents with James Harden, he had good chemistry with JJ Redick and Seth Curry, and you wonder what it would have looked like if Jimmy Butler had stuck around. But he and Maxey have shown the best parts of all those combinations already this season — they move in and out of actions seamlessly, always hunting for the best shot either one can get. The more opponents they blitz with that approach, the higher they’ll push themselves up the two-man hierarchy in the NBA.
— On that subject, the Sixers spammed Embiid/Maxey middle pick-and-roll in the back half of the second quarter, with results that were more mixed than you’d hope for. On the plus side, that was mostly about Embiid missing jumpers around the elbow. Maxey’s navigation of the reads was excellent, and you continue to see his progress as a point guard as we move deeper into the season.
One play jumped out specifically, and not just because Marcus Morris made a corner three. After hammering the pocket pass to Embiid over and over again, Maxey must have sensed the Nets were waiting to cheat over on that read. By holding it for an extra second, he bought himself a passing window to the corner, where he found Morris waiting unguarded with open arms.
Reads like that are why I’m content to let Maxey feel his way through games a bit right now, despite being a bit disappointed at his scoring numbers early in games. He has clearly emphasized spreading the ball around and getting the rest of the team going in first and second quarters, focusing more on his own shot as games wear on. There are plays here and there where you’d like to see him pull up himself, but he’s using his speed to get shots for guys like Morris, Danuel House Jr., and others who need the assistance a lot more than he does. By creating confidence for them early, Maxey is setting the team up for better second halves, and frankly, better buy-in across the board.
And certainly, Maxey got himself going in this one. After closing the first half with a three to beat the buzzer, Maxey came out and lit the world on fire in the third, hitting several consecutive threes and having a blast while doing it. After the third three, he identified a group of Sixers fans sitting courtside and reached out for some high fives, wearing a big smile on his face on the way back to the huddle:
The vibes are high right now, and Maxey is helping that with both his play and his personality.
— It sure feels nice to have this version of De’Anthony Melton back in the mix, and I would assume the calls to bench him will get quieter and quieter. It is still an emotional roller coaster watching him attack the rim, but the Sixers continue to look for him in early offense, and his catch-and-shoot success is finally starting to match his track record.
I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot to analyze here with Melton, in the same way there wasn’t much to analyze when Danny Green would go up and down for weeks at a time. He’s a streaky player taking most of his shots from deep, so variance is going to come for him from time to time. That said, I think the team’s confidence in Melton — not to mention his confidence in himself — has paid off here. The message has been consistent since day one of the season, with players and coaches all expressing their belief that he would turn the corner at some point. Melton’s fire-first, think-later approach brought him through to the other side.
On Sunday, Melton’s hot shooting was the main thing propping up the team in the first two quarters, as Maxey, Tobias Harris, and the rest of the group struggled to hit shots early. And beyond the catch-and-shoot looks, which were plentiful, Melton managed to hit some circus shots around the basket, perhaps the best sign yet that the shooting slump is over.
When role players chip in and the stars show out, the Sixers are tough to beat.
— Jaden Springer’s best contributions came when this game was basically out of reach already, but all reps are good reps for him on an NBA floor. A pair of made threes and a couple of strong drives to the hoop are nothing to sneeze at.
— Nic Batum, plus/minus king. He only took one shot, a three coming out of a DHO with Embiid, but it was nice to see him back out there. Nurse immediately throwing him back into the starting lineup shows how highly the coaching staff thinks of him.
— Marcus Morris hit a three!
— You had to be prepared for some weirdness because of the start time and opponent. 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon against the Brooklyn Nets is a recipe for lethargy, and both teams came out of the chute with problems to work through in the opening minutes.
For example, there’s a time and place for Tobias Harris mismatch hunting. That time and place is not against a Brooklyn Nets team with an army of switchable wings that he has no real size and speed advantages against. Philadelphia nonetheless tried to force-feed him touches in the mid-post on Sunday, and it came as no surprise that he sputtered on those plays, with the ball often getting knocked out of his hands as he failed to move the defender on his back.
The Embiid-less minutes to open the second quarter were also a bit of a mess, with Paul Reed and Danuel House Jr. in full chaos mode, the bad version. The Sixers picked up several bad, early clock fouls in the first two minutes of the quarter, which might have spelled doom against a better team intent on punishing early foul trouble.
Fortunately, the Nets are kinda stinky, so no harm done.
— Watching Cam Johnson fall into the side of Joel Embiid’s knee made my stomach drop a bit, I can’t lie to you. But Embiid quickly shook it off and played the rest of the game with no incident, so I am going to assume for now that he’s fine.
— I love it when broadcasts cut away from the basketball game that is happening to zoom in on a player who is away from the play and grimacing in pain after a very short fall to the floor. Great job.