Ersan Illyasova will always be a complex character in the context of The Process. He’s decidedly better than Jerami Grant at the moment, sure, but he also feels as if he has one foot out the door. This is certainly justifiable: he surely didn’t ask to be traded here and has every right to be looking out for his next deal at the season’s end, but at the same time he doesn’t feel a part of this growing team; he has spurts where he’s clearly looking for his own shot, looks uninterested on defense, and it’s often hard too look past how many minutes he takes away from Dario Saric. But on nights like tonight (yeah sorry I dropped the ball there), where much of the team looks like last season’s listless squad, it’s certainly nice to have Ersan aboard to keep us interested.
And it was almost solely because of Ersan, helped by Robert Covington’s 17 first-half points, that carried the Sixers to halftime. Quick and early foul trouble limited Nerlens Noel to just seven first-half minutes, forcing a bit of an in-over-his-head Richaun Holmes to man the remainder of the half. Chicago would have its way offensively on the boards with each of Philadelphia’s two best defenders riding the hardwood, and managed to widen the gap even further as Covington had a brief leg malady checked on. The bench, better now than in previous years, would offer no help either: Sergio Rodriguez continued his weeks-long streak of increasingly “meh” play; Richaun Holmes was carved up by Chicago’s offensive attack all night; Dario Saric was (again) for the most part invisible; and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot logged an astounding minus-22 in just six first-half minutes.
The Sixers would sport a slightly more team-oriented product in the latter half, with Nerlens back anchoring the defense and TJ McConnell and Nik Stauskas waking up on offense. But Covington and Illyasova would cool off by this point, and the bench woes — totaling just 15 points altogether by game’s end — would be too much to overcome. Toss in a 28/8/7 (plus four steals) performance from Jimmy Butler and somehow 21 points from Robin Lopez — he’s averaging 24 points per in two games against Philly this year; yeah, I don’t get it either — and this game showed just how fragile Philadelphia is without Embiid in the lineup. Chicago wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but a lifeless bench, Nerlens foul trouble, and 23 minutes without a defensive anchor is just too much to compensate for without Joel.
Some loose ends:
- Tonight would have been as good a night as ever for Brett to utilize a seemingly healthy Jahlil Okafor. Richaun — who is in no way ready to anchor a defense for extended stretches — was torn to pieces by Chicago’s pick-and-roll and contributed basically zilch on offense and the boards, and Okafor’s scoring could’ve certainly been valuable as Chicago pulled away in the first quarter. But Brett noted post-game that Okafor was effectively not in game shape for tonight, which, even coming off a knee injury, is not ideal past the midway point of the season.
- We have to talk about Sergio Rodriguez. Ok, here’s the thing about Sergio Rodriguez: he’s bad. He spaces the floor and tosses occasionally flashy passes, sure, but games just magically slip away from the Sixers anytime he plays. Brett seemed to realize this following Chacho’s only disastrous six-minute stretch in the first half, Chasson Randle as TJ’s understudy through the final two quarters. Ben Simmons will theoretically absorb the lion’s share (if not all) of non-TJ point guard minutes eventually — spacing be damned — but 37 minute nights for TJ may become the new norm until then.
- Robert Covington’s stat line tonight: 21/12/3, with three blocks and three steals. Expose yourself, booers.
- Gerald Henderson notched an 0-3 in nine minutes tonight. Love ya, Bryan!
- Brett also mentioned that Embiid will be questionable for tomorrow night against the Kings, because nothing is good.