In today's newsletter:
- About last night's 123-103 win.
- Key stats.
- Stray thoughts.
- Quotes and press conference audio.
- Link roundup.
Now three games into a season-long seven game homestand, the Philadelphia 76ers (15-12) are slowly but surely starting to look more like the team that many, myself included, expected prior to the start of the season.
Despite the overall frustration around the team, the Sixers have had a couple of impressive wins this season. This includes victories over the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets. But the Sixers haven't had very many of those performances when Embiid and Harden have played alongside of each other, as Harden missed all three of those aforementioned wins, and Embiid was also out in that unexpected November 22nd victory over the Nets.
Last night's dominant win over the upstart Sacramento Kings, who came into the game with a 14-11 record and a respectable 16th-ranked defense, was one of the few times this season when Harden and Embiid looked like the dominant tandem we envisioned when the season began. It was all on displaying during the first half, when the Sixers built up an 80-55 lead, getting whatever shot they wanted in the process.
When the Kings clanged their 32 missed 3-point shots off the front of the rim, the Sixers grabbed the rebound, pushed the pace and generated quality looks in transition, and in early offense. When the game slowed down James Harden put the Kings in rotation and picked them apart with surgical passing. When Tobias Harris had an advantage, he attacked off the dribble and kept the ball moving, creating good looks for his teammates. And Embiid ... well, he mostly did whatever he wanted to, at least during the brief portion of the night when the game was still somewhat competitive. The Sixers got solid performances all around, including a pair of made corner 3s from PJ Tucker, 15 points (including three made 3s) from Matisse Thybulle, and 14 off the bench from Shake Milton, who continues to log significant minutes with Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) still on the mend.
To top it all off the Sixers played well on the other end, too. With De'Anthony Melton (back tightness) out of the lineup and Matisse Thybulle picking up two quick fouls, the Sixers got an inspired defensive performance from Tobias Harris, who should have been overmatched against the much quicker De'Aaron Fox. James Harden was more locked in than we're used to seeing. I could probably nitpick a few times that Domantas Sabonis got free, but overall it was a good effort against an extremely fast and athletic Sacramento squad.
The "how much does this matter against championship contenders" question is one that will hang over this entire season, and last night isn't going to answer that question for most. Still, the game against the Kings at least provided some evidence that the dominant regular season team that most of us expected to see is in there, at least on occasion.
- That was one of the faster-paced games of the season, with an estimated 101.8 possessions, per Basketball-Reference (The fastest was 103.0. Average: 97.4).
- The Sixers shot 45.7% (16-35) from deep, compared to 23.8% (10-42) for the Kings.
- The Sixers averaged 116.9 points per 100 plays in the half-court, compared to 65.0 (!) for Sacramento. That was the Sixers' third most efficient half-court game of the season.
- Rebounding is really what kept the Kings "close", with Sacramento holding a 26-7 edge in second-chance points. CleaningTheGlass estimated that the Kings averaged 48.8 points per 100 missed field goals, which is downright disastrous, and the worst defensive rebounding performance of the season for the Sixers (an already bad defensive rebounding squad).
- The Sixers assisted on 34 of their 43 made field goals, led by James Harden's 15, but also aided by Tobias Harris, who tied his career high (and set a Sixers high) with nine. A good shooting performance will almost always help those assist numbers, but the Sixers were creating advantages, and capitalizing on them with their ball movement, all night long.
- Nearly a third (10 out of 32 of the non-garbage time attempts) of the Sixers' 3-point attempts came from the corners, with Harden being the driving force in a lot of these attempts. This was one of Harden's better games of the season, and certainly the best that Embiid and Harden have looked in the same game.
- The Sixers shot 51.2% from the field and 45.7% from three. Their 64.9% eFG% (in non-garbage time minutes) was the second most efficient shooting game of the season, per CTG, with an overall offensive rating of 127.2 coming in 4th on the season. The three higher were against the Pacers, Hornets and Magic. Adjusting for the quality of the opponent's defense, this might have been the best offensive performance of the season for the Sixers.
- On that note, the 80 points that the Sixers scored in the first half last night was tied for the fifth most points scored in a half in franchise history, according to StatMuse. The other four times have come in the past four years, as obviously the league's rapidly-increasing pace impacts these totals. Harden and Embiid were involved in two of those other performances last spring: 86 in the second half against the Hornets on April 2nd, and 82 in the first half against the Pacers on April 5th.