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Joel Embiid’s two-way dominance leads Sixers past Chicago

The superstar did superstar things.

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sixers returned to the Wells Fargo Center Monday to take on the Chicago Bulls. James Harden rejoined the starting lineup after missing Saturday’s game in Miami. Joel Embiid dominated the game from start to finish, dropping 43 points on 63.2 percent true shooting, along with 14 boards, three blocks and two steals. James Harden flashed his elite playmaking ability, dishing out 14 assists to go with 16 points and eight rebounds. Here are some thoughts and observations from the Sixers’ 121-106 win over the Bulls.

First Half

  • The Sixers are still trying new ways to make Matisse Thybulle more useful on offense. Harden was able to use the Bulls’ aggressive defense to find Thybulle wide open under the basket a couple of times in the first quarter. Thybulle finding use as a screener/roller/cutter will certainly be something to monitor over the rest of the regular season.
  • Shake Milton seems to have taken Furkan Korkmaz’s spot in the rotation. Milton had been taking Korkmaz’s second half minutes the previous few games. Tonight, he got the first-half minutes as well. Isaiah Joe also received rare first-half minutes, as well as Danny Green’s minutes once the veteran wing was ruled out at halftime — another tough sign for Korkmaz.
  • Just a really good first quarter for Embiid and Harden, who had 11 and nine points, respectively. Embiid got to the line six times, putting both Tristan Thompson and Tony Bradley in early foul trouble, while Harden found shooters all over the court.
  • Thybulle and DeAndre Jordan sharing the court is a bit clunky offensively, but having James Harden can alleviate that. Jordan was a -1 in his first shift, which is a massive win for the standards of a Sixers backup center.
  • A really good first half for Georges Niang, who had eight points and didn’t miss a shot. As predicted, he’s been a seamless fit with Harden.
  • At the risk of sounding 80 years old, the Sixers really just need to box out. They allowed 10 offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points in the first half alone. These were big reasons the Sixers’ lead was just six at the break.

Second Half

  • The Harden Era Sixers are making it a trend to come out hot in the third quarter, and tonight was no different. This is the best Embiid has looked since Harden was added to the lineup. He’s up to 30 points and 10 rebounds with well over five minutes to go in the third quarter. Their pick-and-roll game continues to come along, while they punish teams at the free throw-line as well. Embiid had 19 points in the third, as Philly pushed its lead to 11.
  • It had to feel good for Tobias Harris to dunk on Derrick Jones Jr. in the third quarter. Harris still hasn’t figured out his new role, and struggled in some spots shooting the ball tonight. But this was a good example of the quick decision-making the Sixers need moving forward from him.
  • While it was against a super small Bulls lineup featuring Derrick Jones Jr. at center, the Sixers not only kept themselves afloat in the DeAndre Jordan minutes, they extended the lead to 13. Imagine that: a backup center with a positive plus-minus.
  • The Sixers are just playing damn good basketball right now. Embiid slammed the door on the Bulls, which just had no answer for him, especially after Nikola Vucevic was scratched from the lineup. This was Embiid’s best performance since his 50-point game against Orlando, just pure dominance on both ends of the floor.
  • Harden hit Thybulle rolling to the basket, which Matisse capped off with a thunderous dunk. This was not only the dagger for the Bulls, but it was really encouraging to see the Sixers go to this play so often.

Philadelphia will be back in action Thursday at 7:30 inside Wells Fargo Center against the Brooklyn Nets.