Embiid, Sixers beat Hornets, win seventh in a row: likes and dislikes
The Sixers (46-22) visited the Charlotte Hornets (22-49) on Friday. Philadelphia wanted to win for the seventh time in a row. Charlotte wanted to break a three game losing streak. Embiid, Harden and the Sixers bulldozed the Hornets to officially eliminate Charlotte from the playoffs, 121-82.
Before we get to the game, allow me to set the scene.
The Sixers were without the services of Jalen McDaniels, who has a contusion to his right hip.
Louis King and Mac McClung are on Two-Way G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were out.
Doc Rivers started Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker and Embiid.
The Hornets were without the services of LaMelo Ball, who is out for the rest of the season as he recovers from surgery to repair a broken right ankle.
Cody Martin missed the game with a sore left knee. Mark Williams has a sprained right thumb and was out.
James Bouknight is on assignment with Hornets’ G-League partner and was unavailable. Theo Maledon has a two-way assignment with Charlotte’s G-League affiliate and was out.
Steve Clifford started Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr., Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington and Nick Richards.
The good times have been scarce for Harris lately. As such, it must have felt like a load off his back to play a really nice game against Charlotte on Friday. His teammates looked his way early, the Sixers performing flex plays that sealed him inside for touches. It all started with a disputed right wing triple that found the target early in the game.
As soon as Harris saw one crash, he was ready to go. He hit another triple from the left wing later in the first half, rattling in a catch-and-shoot look early in the transition. Harris didn’t just fall in love with the outline. The deep ball was just a tool at his disposal all night. Harris teased mismatches and intuitively backed to the basket for high percentage shots when he sensed mismatches. He ran across the floor in transition and cashed in a dunk on a beautiful pocket pass from Tucker. He even got a rep in a pick-and-roll, stopping for a midrange jumper after clearing the screen.
I can see both sides of the argument regarding Harris’s importance in the playoffs. There’s no doubt they’ll need him to be his best self on defense. But the offense is another story. They needed him Awesome in last season’s playoffs because Harden was not healthy. But Harden was better than anyone could have hoped for in his first full season with the Sixers. Keep in mind that Embiid is as good as he’s ever been and Maxey is finding his footing, and it’s fair to wonder if it’s important for Harris to find his stride as he’s fourth on most nights option will be.
I think there’s a chance he can swing a series as the Sixers go deeper into the playoffs. So I think it’s important for him to rediscover his form early in the season as a volume catch-and-shoot three-pointer capable of making things happen off the dribble as long as he makes quick decisions. But I can see the other side of the argument for those who want to make it.
Embiid emphatically broke out of early boredom. And it was more of the same. He was just dominant and destroyed Charlotte off the spike and in. Much of the work came courtesy of a two-man game. But there was at least one impressive score created almost entirely by Embiid himself:
exhibition b: pic.twitter.com/zv68ml0qAj
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 17, 2023
Embiid took advantage of sleeping Charlotte defenders, quickly closing them in from the inside for easy buckets on the rim or bullying from close range before turning for quick scores.
The vast majority of his 38 points came easily because Harden or someone else served them on a plate for the big man. He didn’t have to put the ball on deck much or navigate traffic. It was just screening, opening, catching and responding. Embiid slowed his throw or opened wide from the screen, Harden or Maxey bounced the ball to him for an easy jump at the free throw line. If Embiid saw a runway after opening wide from the screen, he went all the way to the edge for two points.
However, he didn’t just go on autopilot on the attack and roll through the game. Embiid cleared four shots, although I think there was a favorable score that helped him there. Still, his fringe instincts were excellent. Embiid stayed vertical when drivers went up and met them at the top to deflect their shots. He made good decisions as a pick-and-roll defender, reading the ball and adjusting his drop accordingly to make himself available high up in the action. He also made some simply incredible defensive plays, spinning on the move and refusing Kai Jones at the rim and driving Rozier into a drive before putting away his layup:
Surely Terry Rozier could very well have shot this, but I think Embiid deliberately looked away to get Rozier to ride and then turned to help and slammed the layup once Rozier committed to the ride. pic.twitter.com/3jneBAZcrG
— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) March 18, 2023
As much as Embiid has been on offense this year and especially lately, the bigger story is his defense. That’s where you can see his desire to win MVP, even if he won’t say it into mics. His will to play as an edge protector and defend in space is nothing short of remarkable no matter who the opponent is. It has to be the best two-way track of his career.
The Hornets are too mature to make proper defensive plays based on possession. But this game was a perfect example of Harden’s offensive genius. Everything good in Embiid’s scoring output, Harden was the origin of much of it. Charlotte put two on the ball as soon as the screener joined the game. That’s the right concept given how elite a playmaker Harden is. The problem was that the Hornets thought that was enough to fix the offense. They were unwilling to make assist rotations when Harden made the first pass against the added pressure.
As such, Philadelphia got practice-level endless shots from Harden’s pass from the pick-and-roll or the swing pass second only to Harden’s pass. Harris got an easy catch-and-shoot three from the right wing as the Hornets failed an assist rotation. Embiid threw down a thunderous dunk as there was no helper on the weak side to clog his lane.
Even though it wasn’t a two-man game, Harden saw openings in transition and early in the half court attack. Hit-ahead passes for quick scores or Embiid opening in the post from a flex play, Harden found the open man. Number 1 took a back seat as the goalscorer in this one, but he used the Hornets’ youthfulness against them and ripped Charlotte apart all night.
Paul Reed had six offensive rebounds in 12 minutes of action. He is getting better day by day, especially offensively. Control over both his body and the ball is the only ingredient he needs to be successful on that side of the floor right now. His touch around the edge makes strides every minute he’s on the field. The best thing he did in this game was show his second jump on the glass. He created extra plays per possession for Philadelphia, keeping the ball alive on his own or teammates’ misses and scoring the second look himself. Garbage time probably blew it up quite a bit, but the Sixers were plus-nine with Reed on the floor the same game they were plus-26 with Embiid on the field.
More than anything, that tells you it was a good night for the Sixers.
The way this game started was at least a little contradictory in these eyes. On the one hand, if Embiid wants to win the MVP award, he needs to make his mark in every game from the start. If he can do it against an elite Cleveland defense in hostile territory, he can absolutely do it against a bottom 10 defense in Charlotte.
On the other hand, it’s the 22-49 Hornets. The limited home crowd that exists is more concerned about what drink will accompany them during the game than the game itself. The rest – and a sizable majority, it seemed – of the crowd were Sixers fans who made their collective presence known with booming MVP chants for the big guy. Either way, it’s understandable that there would be relatively little juice for this matchup.
But you could see it early. Embiid lost the ball a few times in the first few minutes of the match as he attempted to forcibly feed the ball in to Harris, misinterpreting the best way to get the ball to him or making the wrong decision to go his way watching as the Hornets tried to deny entry. passage. Embiid also went to the line on a three early on the clock that missed the target. Fortunately, the slow start only lasted a few minutes and it was pure dominance for the rest of the night.
Tucker was doing his usual junkyard work on the glass, but some really rough decisions were offensive on his part. There’s the hot hand feeding and there’s the fluidity of the attack from not taking easy shots when they’re right in front of you. Tucker fell into the latter category on Friday. He also bit a Hayward fake on a shot he clearly wasn’t going to take and fouled.
Another heavy shooting night for Harden. Many of his three were not close and he missed all six of his attempts. 4-of-15 overall. A triple-double is a nice consolation prize, I think. Speaking of rough shooting, 0-for-5 from deep for Niang. You know the Sixers a horrible team when they win by 39 points despite a 0-11 effort from outside the arc of those two.
Harris played a really fun game for the first time in a long time. But there were a few plays in the transition where he messed up assets when Philadelphia had numbers. I’m sure Embiid and Harden understand that there are skill levels and that they were born with certain gifts that 99.9 percent of people don’t have. But I wonder if they are quietly wondering how Harris can make some relatively easy plays seem so difficult when they play the same plays over and over.
The Sixers (47-22) will visit the Indiana Pacers (32-38) on Saturday. The tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
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