Sixers ride big second quarter to beat Sacramento Kings: Likes and Dislikes

Joel Embiid at the free throw line in Sixers-Kings game, December 2022; photo by Austin Krell/TPL

The Sixers (14-12) hosted the Kings (14-11) on Tuesday. Philadelphia wanted to extend its winning ways to three games. Sacramento wanted to get back on track after losing to the Knicks on Sunday. A dominant second quarter gave the Sixers a lead so large they couldn’t even give up in a 123-103 rout of the Kings.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual comments

Sacramento was without the services of Alex Len, who has a non-COVID illness. Chima Moneke is on assignment at Sacramento’s G-League affiliate and was unavailable.

Mike Brown started De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes and Domantas Sabonis.

Philadelphia was without Tyrese Maxey, who is recovering from a minor fracture in his left foot.

Before the game, Doc Rivers expressed the hope that Maxey would be able to participate in a training session at the end of this week. Rivers said Maxey has been able to run and shoot, activities he was unable to do last week.

De’Anthony Melton missed the game with back pain.

Daniel House Jr. has a cut on his left foot and was unavailable.

Julian Champagnie and Saben Lee are on a Two-Way G-League assignment with the Delaware Blue Coats and were unavailable.

Rivers started James Harden, Matisse Thybulle, PJ Tucker, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid.


Even with Harden’s shooting touch slightly off target in the first quarter, he made up for it with his quarterbacking of the offense. Whether it’s over-the-top passes that were a bit long for only Embiid to retrieve, or using his gravity to find the man left unattended by defenders who fled to help Harden, the man with the beard sprayed the ball all over the field. Even when he wasn’t getting the assists, he saw shots from miles away. One play in particular stood out: Harden dribbled away from the strong side, only to flip a behind-the-back pass to Georges Niang, who swung the ball to Shake Milton in the corner for a decent look at a triple .

Harden didn’t waste that many dribbles in this one either. They were quick passes forward, or meaningful dribbles designed to bend the Sacramento defense in some way. He wasn’t telegraphing passes or beating a dead horse with the same play over and over. From Tucker and Thybulle to Harris and others, everybody ate the meal Harden cooked. It really was a clinic in point guard play.

And when Harden’s jumper finally caught up to him, you could put the game on ice for all intents and purposes. He wrote a run with his shooting and passing in the second quarter that gave the Sixers a lead they were unwilling to relinquish.

Embiid was the beneficiary of much of Harden’s point guard play. Throughout the first half, he stepped into rhythm jumpers or caught the ball deep under the basket. Embiid didn’t have to work as hard for the scores he got because of how well his teammates, namely Harden, drafted him. And when he wasn’t catching jumpers at practice level or on the rim, Embiid was on his way, riding to the rim for the finish, not a king to slow him down. Embiid’s work around the basket, both on the drive and catches at the Cup, gave Sacramento’s bigs an attack. Any king who dared to brake him was punished with a handful of quick transgressions. Sacramento, like most teams, had no answer to Embiid’s mix of footwork, physicality, and touch in the first half. And it really was all the Sixers needed.

The story of the whole match was basically the first half. You could even zoom in and isolate to the second quarter. Philadelphia grabbed Sacramento with excellent pace on offense, even though the Sixers didn’t necessarily get out in transition. They made a kill on live-ball wraps and went to the open floor for easy buckets that way, too. Only Harden had five steals before halftime. Even when it was a missed shot by Sacramento, they were quick to get the ball up the field to beat the Kings’ transition defense. To put the icing on the cake, the Sixers really didn’t settle for their side. Philadelphia got the ball to the corner for a good look from deep. The Sixers also reached the edge for authoritative finishes when they cut hard inside the half court offense or had the advantage during the transition.

Just an all round ass kicking. Hard to find much bad about this one.


If Thybulle wants more minutes, he hasn’t done much to convince his head coach to invest more confidence in what he brings. The now-experienced wing got his first foul 20 seconds into the game, checking Fox on an inbound pass about 28 yards from Sacramento’s basket. Seven seconds later, he committed another foul and shortly afterwards sentenced himself to the bench with two fouls.

Look, the act is getting old. The more you watch Thybulle, the more you notice he’s falling behind on his assignment, sometimes because his gambles in the passing lanes don’t pay off. It’s not like he recovers, the ball handler takes a hit for a bucket on the edge. Of course, that’s when he’s not inexplicably fouling jump-shooters. It would be one thing if he made amends for those transgressions, but we all know the story there. So you wonder what he’s really good at, other than sniffing out errant decisions in the passing lanes. Cutting the ball might be on the list. But it’s hard to argue that the list goes much further.

The Sixers (15-12) will host the Golden State Warriors (14-14) on Friday. The tip is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. You can catch the game on ESPN.

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