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Red-hot Sixers hang on to take down East-best Bulls

The Sixers put in another strong team performance to give the Bulls just their second loss of the season.

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Don’t look now, but here come the Sixers.

Fueled by outstanding team defense and more clutch shot-making from Seth Curry, they took down the Bulls, 103-98, at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night. The win, their fourth in a row and most impressive of the season, improves them to 6-2.

The Sixers were without Ben Simmons (personal reasons), Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols) and Danny Green (hamstring tightness). At this point, it’s hard to know when any of that trio will return. Simmons’ situation is still murky, to say the least. Doc Rivers didn’t sound too optimistic about Harris returning in the near future. The 34-year-old Green figures to miss more than just Wednesday’s contest.

The Sixers are right back at it tomorrow night in Detroit to take on No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham and the Pistons.

Here are a few observations from the night.

First half

  • With Harris, Green and Simmons out, the defensive matchups were going to be an interesting storyline. Starting Matisse Thybulle and having him defend Zach LaVine was logical. Thybulle has had success against the fellow Washington state native. That mostly continued early on as Thybulle forced two LaVine turnovers. Though LaVine started the game 5 of 10, it felt like they were tough makes — and when he wasn’t guarded by Thybulle. Thybulle had two steals and a block, continuing to add to his ridiculous deflection numbers. He was also a plus-17.
  • With Thybulle on LaVine, Furkan Korkmaz drew the assignment against veteran DeMar DeRozan. It got off to a shaky start, but Korkmaz battled early on, even recording a block on a DeRozan midrange fadeaway. As a team the Sixers handled the dangerous wing duo fairly well in the first half with strong help and communication.

And Furk’s confidence level is in outer space right now.

  • Down so many players, the Sixers were forced to play a little differently. The pace to start the game was actually a lot of fun. Much like Monday night, they moved the ball and played with tempo. The starters were getting just about whatever they wanted. The second unit struggled a touch, perhaps getting a little cute and over passing, before it got going.
  • Shake Milton is playing with some serious swagger right now. I was wondering how he’d handle the ball pressure of Alex Caruso and Milton seemed unbothered. After blowing by Caruso on a drive Milton almost gave a look like “nice try” and then proceeded to pick up Caruso full court. The Sixers don’t have a traditional point guard on the roster, but Milton seems to be evolving as a floor general.
  • Georges Niang continues to just be rock solid for this team. Whether it’s making shots, attacking closeouts or making smart passes, he’s been a significant upgrade at the four. He had a team-high 12 points in the first half.

I’m just as impressed with his defense. He’s by no means an All-NBA defender, but teams have tried to pick on him and have been unsuccessful.

  • Tyrese Maxey had a mostly quiet first half but had two excellent drives and finishes late in the second.
  • LaVine (13 points) and DeRozan (16 points) got theirs in the first half, but my goodness did they have to earn it. The defense on both players was excellent for most of the half, but both guys are just outstanding shot-makers. They didn’t get much help though. The Sixers held a 58-44 advantage. Curry had 11 points while Joel Embiid looked a little rusty (3 of 9 for 13 points) but still had five rebounds and five assists.

Second half

  • Starting to run out of superlatives for Curry.
  • The Sixers were forced to go small with their starters and they got beat up on the offensive glass a little bit. That paired with an early sub in for Caruso seemed to give the Bulls life as they cut the Sixers’ lead to single digits.
  • The antidote from Rivers was to insert Niang back in the game — and Niang did what Niang does. He nailed a pair of triples off Embiid double teams, both in big spots to stop a Chicago run.
  • Embiid has been a monster defensively in the third quarter despite his struggles from the floor. He had a couple nice traps on DeRozan and LaVine on the same possession. He also forced Nikola Vucevic into a tough spot on the floor, forcing a jump ball. It’s Defensive Player of the Year-caliber stuff.
  • DeRozan and LaVine have combined for 52 points. The rest of the Bulls have 20. Sixers took a 12-point advantage into the fourth.
  • Sixers’ second unit had another tough stint to open the fourth. They committed a couple sloppy turnovers that Chicago turned into transition opportunities. The Bulls made it a seven-point game.
  • The Sixers’ offense is sputtering in a big way. Chicago is creating turnovers and getting stops and getting out on the break. This is suddenly a four-point game. In Monday’s win, the Sixers had answers every time the Blazers made a run. We’ll see what happens with 8:06 left in the fourth and Curry and Embiid checking back in.
  • DeRozan was feeling it. It should come as no surprise if you’ve watched him play the Sixers over the years. Guy just always cooks them. His latest basket put him up to 33 points on the night and tied the game at 87-87.
  • Curry picked up where he left off Monday, hitting a pair of big baskets to restore order for the Sixers. Embiid continued to be aggressive despite not hitting from the field or the line. He had a pair of aggressive drives, drawing fouls on Vucevic and also had a huge put-back and-one.
  • Thybulle was masterful down the stretch defensively. My goodness. LaVine is going to see him in his nightmares. He finished with three steals and two blocks.
  • Curry hit a ridiculous fadeaway over Caruso to make it a two possession game with 10.7 seconds left. If he continues to do this, the Sixers’ late-game scoring issues could fade quickly. He finished with 22 points.
  • DeRozan went up for a dunk and Embiid made an unbelievable block with the Sixers clinging to a four-point lead. It was initially ruled a foul on Embiid, but was successfully challenged by Rivers. It elicited “MVP” chants from the crowd. What a defensive performance from the Sixers’ MVP. Embiid had just 18 points, but came up in big spots on both ends of the floor. Hell of a win.