Though their time guarding one another was brief, Joel Embiid vs. Anthony Davis was as good as advertised. Both big men showed off an impressive repertoire of moves, and it was The Process who won the war, with the Sixers earning a 99-88 victory.
Embiid’s presence was felt most on the defensive end. One minute it was a highlight-reel block on a three-point closeout, the next he was picking Davis’ pocket in the paint. The touch wasn’t there — 5-15 from the field is pretty rough — but four blocks, three steals, seven rebounds and an immeasurable impact are a nice consolation prize. He finished with a +27 line, 13 points better than his closest teammate. Even on nights when he can’t get shots to fall, this kid is a force to be reckoned with.
It was Dario Saric, rather than Embiid, who played hero this evening. For the second straight night, The Homie came up with clutch buckets down the stretch with the Sixers’ lead dwindling. His line understates his impact; 13 points and five rebounds isn’t anything flashy, and his utility switching between the three and four spots bodes well for his ability to earn minutes once Ben Simmons returns.
Nothing short of a great team effort was going to earn the Sixers their first road win since January 20th. Ersan Ilyasova scored 11 in the first en route to 23 and eight boards, Nik Stauskas put up 14 off the bench, and Robert Covington returned from injury to give the Sixers just enough of a boost to push the team over the top.
It took almost 11 months, but the Sixers finally got another road win.
The Process is becoming self-aware
Navigating double-teams is still a work in progress for Embiid. His turnover count is astronomical because he’s nowhere near accustomed to this level of attention from NBA-caliber defenders. When a second man gets sent his way, it ends poorly more often than not.
But he’s showing progress early in his first NBA season. Take this play from the second quarter, for example:
By directing Gerald Henderson toward the rim and feinting his way, Embiid opens up space for Ilyasova on the perimeter. He makes the quick, no-look pass with ease and gets his team three points. It isn’t a play with high degree of difficulty, but it’s one he has to make in order to take the next step as an offensive hub.
Shedding some of his tunnel vision this soon should encourage Sixers fans on what’s to come.
Where art thou, interior defense?
One of this season’s most depressing trends is the team’s rim protection once Embiid steps off the floor. Over and over again, teams wait to strike until The Process hits The Bench, and they attack the rim with fervor.
Whether they’ve been matched up with superstars like LeBron James or a cavalcade of mediocre guards, the Red Sea parts once the backups come in. Shortly after Embiid took his first break tonight, the Pelicans assaulted the Sixers at the rim, with Omer Asik pulling down four offensive rebounds in the last five minutes of the first quarter. The Pelicans got an extra eight points out of those possessions.
The Sixers can’t afford to allow teams to have second chances, let alone capitalize on them, and they need to do something to fill the cracks in the second unit’s interior. Nerlens Noel’s looming return is one ray of hope in this department, but the team can’t look to one player to act as a cure-all.
Stauskas settles back into bench role
Robert Covington’s absence over the last few games created a void in the starting lineup, forcing Nik Stauskas to play a bigger role. He struggled with the responsibility, and left most of us wondering whether his hot start was just a flash in the pan.
Thankfully for the Sixers, Sauce turned up the heat in the land of gumbo and jambalaya. Who knows the reason for this — perhaps he really does benefit mentally coming off the bench — but he was efficient, confident and ready to contribute from his first moment on the court tonight. That’s the Stauskas the Sixers need moving forward, night in and night out.