4 observations after Joel Embiid’s injury scare, impressive night in Sixers' comeback win over Raptors

Noah Levick
·6 min read

4 observations after Embiid’s injury scare, impressive night in comeback win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers will finish the calendar year without a single loss at Wells Fargo Center.

They overcame early-game shooting struggles to beat the Raptors by a 100-93 score Tuesday night and finish 2020 undefeated at Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid returned after missing Sunday's game with back tightness and posted 29 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and two steals to help the Sixers improve to 3-1. He also gave the Sixers a scare with an apparent injury in the third quarter (more on that below). Embiid’s kick-out pass to Seth Curry for a three-pointer that gave the Sixers a 96-91 edge was a dagger for Toronto. 

The Sixers’ next game is Thursday night against the Magic. Here are observations on their win over the Raptors: 

Embiid sidelined, but not for long 

Embiid fell to the floor as he pivoted after being double teamed early in the third quarter. It seemed his right leg got tangled with Pascal Siakam’s lower body on the play. He walked back to the locker room following a timeout. 

As we saw Sunday night in Cleveland when the Sixers frequently looked aimless without Embiid, his presence is vital. Dwight Howard is a capable and well-credentialed backup center but, at 35 years old, no longer in Embiid’s class. 

That Embiid returned minutes later, appeared to be moving normally and avoided a serious injury was surely a massive relief for the Sixers. He was immediately impactful after checking back in, too, coming “up to touch” in pick-and-roll coverage, shifting back to deny Raptors drivers at the rim, dribbling the ball up the floor and establishing position down low during a Sixers run late in the third period. 

Embiid said after the game that he's "fine," though he declined to specify what happened. 

First-half offensive woes 

Instead of Embiid, Tobias Harris was the Sixers’ most productive offensive player to begin the game, scoring nine of the team’s first 11 points.

As he did against the Wizards, though, Harris went cold. The same thing happened for his teammates, none of whom were particularly hot in the first place. The Sixers shot 28 percent from the floor in the first half, 22.2 percent from three-point range. Curry and Danny Green, who rang the team’s ceremonial liberty bell as a duo before the game, combined to shoot 2 for 10 in the opening half. The team managed 48 points, largely thanks to Embiid’s 11 free throws. 

That the Sixers don’t have players besides Embiid who regularly draw free throws at a high rate or generate reliable offense when open jumpers aren’t falling remains a problem. It’s one of the obvious arguments for a James Harden trade, though of course it isn’t as simple as assuming a deal for Harden would solve everything wrong with the Sixers and not potentially create other issues. 

It was a huge help in this game that Harris found his footing again in the second half, staying aggressive and finishing with 26 points and 11 rebounds. His strong contest of a Fred VanVleet fast break layup late in the fourth quarter was a clutch play, too. Harris has steadily trended upwards since his rough game against the Wizards. 

Green’s assessment of Simmons 

Green was asked after the Sixers’ morning shootaround what’s stood out to him so far about new teammate Ben Simmons. His response was interesting, and consistent with Green’s comments shortly after arriving in Philadelphia about hoping to have a major off-court impact. 

“I think we all knew how talented he was,” Green said. “I think now it’s just him grasping and understanding the system, and forming into — which he’s not naturally — a point guard. He’s a great playmaker, as (head coach Doc Rivers) would say, and he’s good at making plays. But he’s still learning how to put sets together, put people in places — which is going to be different for him, especially with a new system. All of figuring it out, us helping him, us making the game easier for him and him making the game easier for us. We all knew how skilled he was. 

“I just think he has to be more assertive at certain times, and at certain times just be more patient. But at the same time, trusting his abilities, not just what he’s good at doing but things we know he’s not used to doing. Whether that’s shooting the jumper — I think he can shoot it pretty well, and I’ve been trying to get him to shoot a little more here and there. That’s a process in itself. So hopefully we can get him to learn the offense first, and we’ll figure out his comfortability within the offense, and hopefully expanding his game a little more.”

In terms of the assertive vs. patient balance Green referred to, Simmons didn’t do well for much of the first half. He settled for awkward runners instead of heading all the way to the rim, was called for a second-quarter charge as he plowed forward without a clear plan on a fast break and couldn’t get the Sixers’ offense clicking. 

To his credit, Simmons drew six first-half free throws, was focused and effective defensively against Siakam (8-for-23 shooting) and recognized in the second quarter that getting the ball to Embiid in or near the paint represented the team’s best chance at scoring. Simmons had 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and seven assists.

Adjusting to Korkmaz's injury 

With Furkan Korkmaz sidelined at least two weeks by a left adductor strain, the Sixers’ first substitution was Shake Milton in place of Danny Green, leaving all the other starters on the court. That same lineup closed out the Sixers’ opening-night win over the Wizards and looked very good in doing so, with multiple ball handlers facilitating efficient offense. Perhaps they can develop more as a useful group for the Sixers during Korkmaz’s absence. 

Matisse Thybulle was next off the bench, replacing Seth Curry. His first defensive possession did not go well as he fell slightly behind Norman Powell off the ball and gave him space to knock down a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. Thybulle, who was scoreless and had no steals or blocks in 12 minutes, should have an extended chance now to show Rivers he can eliminate those kinds of miscues from his game and deserves rotation minutes. 

Tyrese Maxey also received first-quarter minutes alongside Milton. While Rivers has seemed to think Milton and Korkmaz are a playmaking duo worth growing, Maxey possesses more talent as a shifty, speedy shot creator. Unlike Korkmaz, however, outside shooting is not a strength. He missed two open attempts from three-point range in the first quarter, and the rookie was certainly not the only Sixer to misfire on good looks from long distance. 

Overall, the Sixers’ bench had a poor game offensively. Second-unit Sixers combined to shoot 3 for 18. 

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