Sixers at Bulls: Sixers blitz Chicago, win on short night for Joel Embiid
3 observations after Sixers blitz Bulls, win on short night for Embiid originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers blitzed the Bulls and then cruised to a bounce-back win Wednesday night, splitting their mini-series against Chicago with a 116-91 victory at United Center.
Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey and De'Anthony Melton all scored at least 20 points.
The Sixers were down James Harden (left Achilles soreness) and Jalen McDaniels (right hip soreness).
Bulls guard Alex Caruso remained out with left foot soreness. DeMar DeRozan exited in the third quarter and did not return because of a right quad strain. Joel Embiid also had a short night; details on that are below.
At 49-23, the Sixers are third in the Eastern Conference standings and a half-game behind the No. 2 Celtics. Chicago fell to 34-38.
The Sixers will play the second game of a four-game road trip Friday night against the Warriors. Here are observations on their blowout win over the Bulls:
Sharp passing highlights dream start
After a slow, labored offensive start in Monday’s double-overtime defeat to Chicago, the Sixers were essentially flawless in the first several minutes.
Harris missed the game’s opening shot, but P.J. Tucker chased down the offensive rebound and assisted a Melton three-pointer. That goes down as just one rebound and one assist, but it’s a classic example of Tucker making tone-setting plays that impact momentum in a way stat sheets can’t completely reflect. From there, the Sixers were better than the Bulls in every way imaginable on their way to a 17-0 lead. They grabbed the game’s first 10 rebounds and tallied the night’s first seven assists.
Harris and Embiid teamed up successfully on a couple of pick-and-rolls. Embiid’s passing was a massive plus, too. Maxey got an early corner three after Embiid drew a double team and the Sixers swung the ball sweetly around the perimeter. Embiid also set Harris up for a triple with a dish from the nail to the left elbow. Embiid wasn’t exactly shabby as a scorer either; he reached a dozen points on 5-for-5 shooting when he nailed a pull-up jumper over Andre Drummond. Next time he touched the ball, Embiid pulled out his Chris Paul-inspired, live-dribble pass fake before hitting Danuel House Jr. in stride for a dunk.
Harris also impressed as a passer. Like with Embiid, much of his good work stemmed from sound decisions when Chicago shifted help defenders in his direction. The Sixers targeted the desirable switch of Harris vs. Coby White early in the second quarter, which allowed the veteran forward to operate comfortably from the mid-post and penalize the Bulls when they left strong shooters like Maxey open. The Harris-Embiid duo combined for 13 assists before intermission. The Maxey-Melton backcourt enjoyed much of that playmaking, sinking 7 of 10 first-half attempts behind the arc as a tandem.
Bench chips in when needed
Perhaps the first mildly negative development of the night for the Sixers was Tucker picking up his second foul with 8:28 left in the first quarter.
House replaced Tucker and did a solid job. Again, though he didn’t rack up assists like Harris and Embiid, House flashed his passing ability on a few occasions. He possesses vision and skill in a variety of situations — making the “one more" pass on the perimeter; driving and kicking off of closeouts; steaming forward with aggressive intent in transition.
The Bulls began to trim their deficit thanks to their second unit. Andre Drummond had a productive initial stint with seven points and five rebounds, and Ayo Dosunmu made a three to cut the Sixers’ lead to 11.
Chicago failed to sustain a meaningful run, though. With Drummond on the bench early in the second quarter, Paul Reed was active and effective on the offensive glass. Shake Milton contributed with a driving, and-one layup and a one-handed skip pass assist of a Georges Niang three. Milton has often sensed the right moments to attack and capitalized on them this season.
An Embiid-less half
Embiid’s absence was conspicuous to open the third quarter. Reed started the second half instead.
Near the end of the third, Kate Scott said on the NBC Sports Philadelphia broadcast that Embiid was out because of the score differential. He ultimately played a mere 16 minutes the game after going 44. Late in the fourth quarter, the Sixers said Embiid missed the second half because of mild right calf tightness and is expected to play Friday. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters postgame that Embiid's calf tightness was "very mild" and not using him in the second half was "just precaution."
Dewayne Dedmon played 10 second-half minutes, his most as a Sixer. Montrezl Harrell appeared in a game for the first time since March 2.
Embiid's franchise-record streak of consecutive 30-point games ended at 10. Wednesday night will hurt him slightly in the scoring title race, but Embiid's health is clearly far more important than stats with the playoffs looming. There's no question the Sixers should err on the side of caution with him and Harden for the remainder of the regular season.