It was just the regular season home opener, but it sure didn’t feel like it.
After being in front for most of the game, the Sixers let up a 16-1 run to close the game and lost to the Nets, 114-109, at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night. It felt eerily similar to how a few of the games in the Atlanta series ended a few months ago.
The Sixers are now 1-1 on the young season.
Ben Simmons, who reportedly informed his teammates ahead of shootaround that he was not yet “mentally ready” to play, remained out. As did guard Shake Milton (right ankle sprain).
Embiid was good all around, but struggled to score down the stretch. Tobias Harris and Seth Curry sparked a hot shooting start, but that momentum waned in the fourth. While Kevin Durant (29 points, 15 rebounds, 12 assists) and James Harden (20 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) got theirs, Matisse Thybulle led an outstanding defensive effort.
Unfortunately, the Sixers’ offense couldn’t buy a bucket late.
Here are a few observations from the night.
Centers of attention
Embiid went from questionable to playing to getting MVP chants before the game started to looking like his MVP-caliber self for most of the game.
Just like in New Orleans, Embiid got off to a great start as a playmaker with four early assists. He pushed the ball up the floor several times and stepping up to the challenge in having to defend two of the most lethal pick-and-roll players ever.
These point center moments have been fun.
Whether it was the knee or fatigue, Embiid couldn’t find a way to score during the Nets’ game-sealing run. He finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four blocks.
If the Sixers have an advantage over the Nets it’s at the center position between Embiid and newcomer Andre Drummond.
On Friday, Drummond just added a physical element to the game. He did an excellent job protecting the rim (two blocks) and cleaning up on the glass (10 rebounds).
Offensively, his passing continues to be an impressive element in his game. He’s also shown chemistry with Furkan Korkmaz in the pick-and-roll.
It’s still an adventure with Drummond at times with a few of the risky passes he throws, but hey, he’s definitely entertaining.
Making it rain
The Sixers talked a lot about taking more threes throughout training camp in the preseason. Friday’s game started with a breakneck pace and the Sixers came out firing.
Danny Green, who went scoreless and only took one shot in the opener, made sure that didn’t happen again with a pair of early transition threes.
The Green Curry House of Threes is OPEN pic.twitter.com/4rv9TQy3WG— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) October 22, 2021
That seemed to ignite the other members of the starting unit, mainly Curry and Harris.
Curry’s hesitancy to shoot was a fairly big storyline throughout the regular season last year. After his ridiculous postseason run, that seems to be a thing of the past. Curry was aggressive and hunting his shots at every opportunity.
The two-man game with Curry and Embiid continues to evolve.
Harris said he worked on pull-up and contested threes this offseason.
Looked good on this one.
Harris is an interesting matchup for the Nets. They really don’t have a player that matches up size wise, outside of Durant, who Brooklyn likely doesn’t want to use as a primary defender when possible.
Curry and Harris each scored 23 points, but neither player made an impact offensively in the fourth. Green also airballed a pair of threes late. When the game slowed down, the Sixers’ half-court offense was stagnant.
Defense wasn’t the problem
It’s weird to say the Sixers did a good job on Durant when the future Hall of Famer produced a triple-double, but they did. Green and Harris did admirable jobs, as did Tyrese Maxey when asked to guard Harden.
The standout was definitely Thybulle. Thybulle spent time on both players and showed why he was a no-brainer choice to make the All-Defensive Second Team last season. Harden had five turnovers and Thybulle was a big reason why.
This play was a nice reward for Thybulle and it came in a big spot.
As a team, the Sixers were on point with their rotations and help defense. Holding Brooklyn to 114 points is actually impressive in today’s NBA.
But their offense went totally dark after that Harris-to-Thybulle lob.
Reacting to Simmons news
Ahead of Friday’s game, Doc Rivers addressed the Simmons situation.
“Yeah, it was a productive day,” Rivers said. “It was a start, and that’s the only way you can get going. You’ve got to start, and today was a start.”
When asked if he’d still like Simmons to be around the team, Rivers didn’t hesitate.
“He’s part of the team. I don’t know how many more times I can say that. He is part of the team. We have certain rules obviously, and last week or the other day that didn’t happen. But today was a good day. I think — and I’ve always done — but most people, we look at problems insisted of the possibilities.”
While addressing the crowd before the game, Embiid threw his support behind Simmons.
“A lot has happened in the last few months,” Embiid said, “and I ask you guys to continue to support us and our teammate Ben [Simmons] because he is still our brother.”
In Simmons’ stead, Tyrese Maxey had a similarly solid performance to the one he had in New Orleans. It was a quiet start, but Maxey was very good after halftime, showing off his ability to use ball screens, get downhill and finish effectively around the rim.
While he continues to show a willingness to shoot threes, he was just 1 of 5.