Down two to the Golden State Warriors at halftime Friday night, the Philadelphia 76ers stepped things into high gear coming out of the locker room, quite literally. The Sixers outscored the Warriors in the third quarter, 33-24, to take control of the game, and a big component of their success that period was their decision to push the pace.
The Sixers aren’t typically a fast team. On the season, they rank just 26th in the NBA in pace. A large reason is certainly that the team’s offense runs through a 7-foot center, while missing both James Harden and Tyrese Maxey for large chunks of the young season is likely also a factor.
Friday night, although Philadelphia only held a 17-15 edge in fast break points for the contest, it was their 10-5 advantage in that category in the third quarter that helped turn the tide over the Bay Area Bombers. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers spoke after the victory about the increased pace his team utilized in their second-half surge:
“You know again, I thought the change of the game was middle of the third [quarter] when we started running and playing with pace. I thought we played a slow game overall, so I don’t like that part. But after that I liked our pace, I loved this pitching the ball up ahead, getting scores. That’s how we have to play, you obviously have to get stops to do that, and we were getting stops.”
Joel Embiid, who led the team with 12 points in the third quarter, echoed those sentiments:
“That’s how you want to play. You want your defense to get stops and want to be able to push the ball and kick the ball ahead and let your playmakers do their thing. Whether it’s going to score or creating shots for other guys, that’s what we need to be able to do really well. It starts with James; he’s been great in terms of kicking the ball out and the ball is not sticking. He’s doing a great job of getting everyone involved. It really starts with him.”
Harden’s look-ahead passes are indeed often a marvel to behold. He recorded a trio of assists in the third frame. Doc Rivers waxed poetic about his star guard’s ability to sling the ball around:
“[James Harden] is an elite passer. We forget how good James is sometimes, like a guy we want him to be a facilitator and scorer, more of both here. We forget this guy is one of the greatest players to ever play and to do that with the ball, he had to be a great passer. You know he’s doing that and now he’s in a role of doing that, and he’s actually enjoying it and it’s pretty cool.”
Harden’s starting backcourt mate, De’Anthony Melton, also did more than his fair share, with four of his season-high seven assists coming in the third quarter. Watch him use his elite speed to drive the ball downcourt and feed Shake Milton for a bucket:
But even without the ball in his hands, Melton did his part to sprint in the open court and create odd-man advantages for Philadelphia:
Of course, it was a team-wide effort beyond the starting guards. Here is Shake Milton pushing it up for Georges Niang to utilize the quick trigger on his long-range artillery:
Given their gargantuan superstar, the Sixers aren’t likely to ever be towards the top of the list in terms of pace. However, it’s good to know they have some nitrous canisters on reserve to accelerate when needed. On Friday, that shift in strategy may have been the difference in avoiding a major pothole in this regular season.