In perhaps a signature win of the season for the Sixers thus far, Joel Embiid returned to the lineup and was the story as Philly beat the now 7-3 Suns. But let’s not forget about the contributions of one Georges Niang. In fact, if you ask Tobias Harris, it was The Minivan, draining 7 of 10 triples, who stole the show Monday night.
“Forget Joel, tonight’s about Georges Niang,” laughed Tobias Harris. “Let me talk about Georges because he had a heck of a night for us. Early in that fourth quarter with that second unit, the game’s about timely shots when you have a lead and a team is trying to make a run.”
Coming into this one, the Sixers were set to play their second game without James Harden, now expected to miss a month with a foot sprain. It was Embiid’s first game back after a three-game bout with the flu. If I told you all of that, plus the fact that Tyrese Maxey would shoot a dreadful 4 of 18, you’d be forgiven for flipping over to Ravens-Saints instead. But somehow your boys got a huge win.
Embiid wasn’t himself, and it showed. He looked pretty exhausted at times, as he deals with the after effects of both plantar fasciitis and this non-COVID bug.
"We literally told him, when you're tired, signal 'come out.' When you're fresh, get up and come in. The only time I put him in was that last stretch cause they were gonna make a run and we needed him on the floor."— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) November 8, 2022
-Rivers on Embiid's in game work load w conditioning, post flu. https://t.co/cNIZPXYtAj
Doc Rivers admitted postgame that Embiid was gassed down the stretch.
Still, as Harris playfully alluded to, Embiid was an absolute force, dropping 33 points, 10 rebounds, and nailing 16 of 16 at the line.
Perhaps more importantly, Embiid kept the Suns guessing by switching out on the perimeter at times, then dropping back to protect the rim at others, defensively. Philly held the normally blistering hot Suns to just 88 points. It should be noted that Chris Paul had to leave the game with an injury, and DeAndre Ayton wasn’t quite healthy either, though the Bahamian Big man did finish the game. But Devin Booker still kept the 2021 Western Conference Champions in the game late, by scoring 28 points.
But how about that Niang guy? With 21 points off the pine, he provided some much needed breathing room each time Phoenix inched closer.
Minivan was lethal from downtown over on Kater Street, chipping in two steals, four boards, and one dime. The Suns tried plenty of zone in order to slow down The Beard-less Sixers. It didn’t work, as the ball moved on the perimeter and found one of Tobias Harris (3 of 7 from deep) or as Kate Scott says “Bang, Bang, Georges Niang!”
“They were playing a lot of zone,” Rivers said. “They were sagging in a lot and we just told our guys to draw, kick and find Georges, Tobias, just our shooters and I thought Joel did a great job, but everyone did. Georges is gonna shoot the ball. That’s why you have him in there. He’s an aggressive player and you want him to be that.”
After the breakout performance, Niang was asked if he was surprised how much room Monty Williams’ team gave him to get his shot off.
“Ummm, I mean, you gotta do something with Joel, [double-team wise] so not really,” Niang said. “But after I made a couple, I was ... yeah, I was a little surprised, getting that many clean looks. But their game plan was to slow down Joel, so I had to make shots, or I probably wouldn’t be out there.”
The Sixers’ bench, collectively, had been off to a woeful start early in the year. But in Embiid’s absence, different players have had to step up. And Niang has done so on more than one occasion now.
“I just think we are growing as a team,” Niang said after the 100-88 win. The Sixers are now 5-6, and 10th overall in the East. They improve to 2-4 at the crib. But the Lawrence, Mass. native sees signs of improvement.
“When the ball is hopping, I think we are at our best having teams in rotation, driving back closeouts, and kicking out. Not too many teams want to be closing out, be driven in again, and having to close out. When we do that as a team and the ball is hopping, we look really good.”
Niang knows what he’s talking about too, because when Ben Simmons was missing in action early last season, he helped the undermanned Sixers stay afloat then too.
Niang matched his career high with seven made triples. So did he try to cash number eight?
“Yeah, did you see I almost got in trouble for doing that? I figured we were up enough that I could pinch one off but you know, Doc obviously let me know that wasn’t cool so that won’t be happening again,” Niang said, giving reporters a laugh.
You can see a few of his made bombs here, including the one that led to a fever pitch crescendo at the Farg, and the last one where Doc scolded him for a heat check brick, when he should have dribbled the clock out, lol. Can’t blame the guy for trying to nab a career high in basically garbage time though.
“Obviously, the Philly fans are second to none. It’s electric. I’m sure there is a clip of what I was saying [after sending the stadium into a frenzy leading to a Suns timeout], hopefully no kids are watching that. But you just get excited, that’s pure emotion,” Niang added.
The Sixers will try to continue sharing the ball and making defenses pay for doubling the big fella on their upcoming road tilt vs. Trae Young’s Hawks.