The Sixers defeated the Charlotte Hornets last night 128-114, in a matchup that felt like a tale of two halves. The first half was dominated by brilliant Ben Simmons and Dario Saric play, and a strong offensive presence from J.J. Redick. Redick finished with 14 points on the night, but all of those points came in the first half.
Simmons and Saric connected on a number of plays last night. The first highlight between the two came with 6:48 remaining in the first quarter. With Simmons bringing the ball up the court and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (pre-ejection) guarding him, Embiid sets a screen on Kidd-Gilchrist, freeing up Simmons to make a pass. When Marvin Williams, who had been guarding Dario goes to guard the recently free Simmons, it allows Dario to slip behind the defenders and go to the basket.
In the second quarter, Simmons receives the inbounds pass from Robert Covington due to an Amir Johnson screen. Saric sets a screen on Kidd-Gilchrist and rolls to the outside. As Johnson sets another screen on Frank Kaminsky, it allows Saric a wide-open look from three which he sinks from 26 feet.
In the third quarter, Saric sets a screen for Marco Belinelli, who rolls to the basket. In the process, Belinelli impedes Treveon Graham, who had been playing off Dario. This impediment gives Dario enough time to catch the pass from Simmons and sink a three.
All of these successful plays together are a testament to the work that Saric had done in the offseason. At the beginning of this season, many were wondering if these two 6’10 Rising Stars could play next to each other. They were worried about Saric’s ability to space the floor while he and Simmons are in the game due to his 32.6% 3-point FG percentage in catch and shoot situations in his rookie year. This season, he is shooting 39.7% from 3 and with an EFG percentage of 55% in the same situations. Saric is a threat from beyond the arc, forcing defenders to play on him and creating the space necessary to run the Sixers offense.
The second half of the game was run by Joel Embiid (largely absent in the first half), and the reemergence of Robert Covington as a legitimate 3 and D guy instead of just the D. In the first half, Embiid only scored four points but finished with 18 for the game. Covington has been struggling recently offensively. Over the last ten games, he has shot 32% from beyond the arc and has averaged 9.8 points per game. Last night, Covington had 22 points and shot 55.6% from deep. In addition, he had two blocks including this one which led to Kidd-Gilchrist being ejected.
The Sixers were extremely effective at limiting Kemba Walker, who had only five points on 11.1% field goal percentage. Robert Covington was once again tasked to be the main defender on Walker and was up to the challenge. When asked post-game what he did differently he said, “Just staying with our principles. Coach told us you know, making sure that, you know, he’s a guy that likes to reject a lot of screens So, you know, we just got to make sure that we get into his body, be a lot physical.” Covington also noted that he used his size advantage over Walker in order to get above and under the Hornet’s star’s shots. In addition to the great defense, Walker’s shots were also not falling. On the season, he is an 84.3% free throw shooter, but last night he only shot 50% from the stripe.
They were not as successful at containing future Hall-of-Famer Dwight Howard. Howard scored a season-high 30 points shooting 71% from the floor. In addition, he pulled down six rebounds and blocked three shots, including one of Embiid’s. He also sank a 3-pointer as time expired in the first half, only the sixth of his career.
Coming up, the Sixers will face Miami on Thursday, and then finish up this four-game road trip in Brooklyn on Sunday. Last night, Miami was defeated by Washington so the Sixers are a full two games up on them in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington still sits a game ahead. Both the Heat and Wizards game will prove important, for standings and to erase the embarrassment of that late January loss to the Nets.
Going into last night’s game there was a lot of chatter in the media and among fans whether Embiid should rest a game. This argument was buoyed by the slow start that he got last night. However, Embiid is a competitor and I don’t think he’s one to be asking for rest now that he finally has the green light to play back-to-backs. Hopefully, the Sixers can get some blow-out leads in the home stretch allowing the big man to rest in the fourth quarter.
T.J. McConnell had a good night against the Hornets, after falling into a short slump following his triple-double performance against the Knicks. He was effective guarding Walker and finished with eight points, two rebounds, and five assists.
Amir Johnson hit another three tonight. He had a full two seconds of uncontested time to get his shot up, not because of great screen setting but because he is not a threat from beyond the arc.
There were four technical fouls given out in tonight’s game. Kidd-Gilchrest was on the receiving end of a double technical which caused his ejection from the game. Both Dwight Howard and Embiid also received technicals.
With former Sixer Michael Carter-Williams out for possibly the entire season with a shoulder injury, rookie Malik Monk will likely see more minutes. In his 15:37 of play last night, he had nine points, two rebounds, and two assists.
Frank Kaminsky continues to be an asset for the Hornets off their bench. He had 11 points last night and has averaged over 15 points a game in the last seven games.