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RECAP: 76ers 120, Suns 105

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NBA: Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers’ Process has seen some dark nights over the last three years and change: through all the Okafor vs. Noel arguments, Clippers 50-point blowouts, and “setbacks,” even some of Sam Hinkie’s most devout followers would sometimes question if there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Some nights everything would click and Philadelphia could yank a win out of its hat, but it seemed more an aberation than concrete “progress” — and if anything, could deter the franchise’s chances at landing it’s next cornerstone in July.

But even coming off possibly the team’s worst game of the season, it’s nights like tonight that remind us why we hung on all those years. We should be clear: the Phoenix Suns are a very bad team and even worse given its maladies — Tyson Chandler was unfortunately attending his mother’s funeral, and Devin Booker fought through a noticeable ankle injury. But even in an incredibly winnable game, the Sixers beat the Suns handily while correcting much of the team’s mistakes over the last few contests.

The story starts and ends with Joel Embiid, whose availability was questionable until about 15 minutes before tipoff with an ankle sprain. You never would have guess that he was hobbled however: the Suns had no answer for The Process from the opening tip, who scored 17 points in his first seven minutes on the floor — good for a career-high 26 points. And as good as he was scoring the ball, the rookie may have been doubly so on the other end, as he effectively turned the paint into a no-fly zone for Phoenix:

While Philadelphia certainly isn’t a stranger to a third-quarter collapse, it surprisingly held its own following intermission. After a quick scare where Phoenix cut the Sixer lead down to six, Philadelphia pieced together an encouraging run while Embiid sat (he clocked only 20 minutes of his 24-minute restriction). The charge was led Nik Stauskas — absolutely incendiary through his first 13 games this season — who kept the offense afloat on his way to 21 points as the ball pinged all around the court (a harsh deviation from Thursday’s game).

But what really hammered this one home was the collective effort of the team: all of Hollis Thompson, Jahlil Okafor, Ersan Illyasova, and Gerald Henderson nailed at least half of their shots, and although Sergio Rodriguez logged another highly questionable shooting performance, his 11 assists were crucial to the free-flowing offense the team employed all night.

Sure, we’ll still be prone to a few more clunkers like Thursday night for this season and maybe even next. But the Sixers now have three games in November — a feat it couldn’t hang its hat on since that first fateful week of The Process three years ago. Nights like tonight make it all worth it.

Some loose thoughts:

  • Robert Covington, despite making just 4 of his last 31 attempts, has been an absolutely devastating wing defender this season. He ranked third in defensive RPM among small forwards in ESPN’s first run of the stat yesterday, and you can see the effects when he plays. He might be the first Sixer since Andre Iguodala who can help just enough off his man so that he disrupts the other team’s action while not totally leaving his man open, and the result more often than not this year has been a weakside deflection, block, or steal.
  • At some point, teams are just gonna have to start picking up Joel Embiid at the 3-point line. His 47 percent success rate from beyond so far may be a bit of fool’s gold considering he’s always open, but after draining another three treys tonight, that thing is on the fast track to becoming a real weapon.
  • We need to all take a second to acknowledge perhaps the greatest non-Embiid Sixers play in recent memory: an Okafor weakside block, leading to a Nik Stauskas alley-oop? What the hell?

I thought Kyle summed this up quite nicely: