Best Win of the Season? – Observations from Sixers 120, Pacers 96

Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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I haven’t checked in with The Ringer or other national media outlets, but I imagine their headlines look something like this on a Friday morning:

“Sixers’ Failure to Win by 30 Proves that Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler Cannot Coexist”

or –

“Ben Simmons Refuses to Shoot a Jumper in 24-point Road Win”

I just made up those two headlines, but this one was real:

“A Rational Conversation About the Self-Destructing Philadelphia 76ers”

It was written on Tuesday morning, and the Sixers would go on to self-destruct their way to a 42-point home win against Minnesota before clobbering the crap out of Indiana last night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

You could say it was their best win of the season, a win that pulled the Sixers level with the Pacers for third place in the Eastern Conference and provided a healthy dose of confidence as Brett Brown’s team goes on to play 10 more playoff teams in their next 11 games.

I’m not really one of those guys who thinks the big bad national media is out to get Philadelphia, but it does seem to me like there’s a bit of a Sixers pile-on taking place. The national attitude is negative, the narrative premature. On top of that, there’s a lot of local arguing about Butler’s fit, Embiid’s usage, and Brown’s coaching style. People write about trading Butler or Ben Simmons. Phil complains about the Sixers nightly in the Crossing Broad Slack channel.

They could very well get smoked by the Thunder on Saturday afternoon, but I think last night was a nice exercise in purging the goofy malaise that’s hung over this team for the past couple of weeks.

Purposeful possessions

There was a point in this game where the Sixers were leading 91-73, but the Pacers responded with an 8-0 run to cut the lead back down to the ten. You were probably thinking what I was thinking – “here it comes, they’re gonna find a way to blow this lead.” Instead they responded by following up a bad turnover with three-straight three-pointers, rolling out to their own 13-6 run and pushing the lead back to double digits.

They actually did it by spacing out their bigs. It wasn’t JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler hitting shots, it was Mike Muscala and Joel Embiid doing the damage, in these three possessions below:

First play:

Joel just loves shooting that trailing three. Nothing crazy here at all; Simmons just drives the lane pulls Thad Young and Domantas Sabonis towards him, and that leaves Embiid wide open at the top of the arc. I know people kind of grumble about Embiid shooting threes, but he was playing with a sore back last night and it was always likely that he’d spend more time on the perimeter. He was 2-7 from deep but hit this one when it mattered.

Second play:

Slow it down, walk it up, horns flare into a back screen for Simmons. Mike Muscala is actually in the wrong starting point, but Embiid points him into the corner and the Sixers carry on without getting flustered. Simmons again draws so much attention that Young completely loses Muscala in the corner, who drains the open three pointer.

Third play:

Similar sequence, though it looks like Butler didn’t know the original call. They just wanted to run another horns set here, which turns into a Butler/Bolden pick and roll, and just like Simmons, Jimmy draws eyeballs and Thad Young loses Muscala again.

Indy has four guys in the paint facing Butler:

That last play kind of stood out to me, because it’s a bit of Jimmy freelancing and doing his thing while also working within the framework of Brown’s offense. He did more of that last night, sort of feeling his way through the Sixers’ typical concepts while finding his spots putting his own spin on the game. He did that to the tune of 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists, which was easily one of his best performances since coming to Philadelphia. Butler had some really nice buckets coming from off-ball cuts and slashes last night. There was even one play where he found space off a Landry Shamet and Ben Simmons pick and roll for an easy layup. He’s very good when he’s moving off the ball and I think that helps in those situations where Simmons drives, draws defenders, and then picks up his dribble or looks to kick the ball instead. Good stuff from Butler last night.

Mike Moose-scala

Back to Muscala for a second, who was 3-4 from deep last night –

If he can hit those corner three pointers at a consistent enough clip, those horns sets with Embiid or Bolden as an elbow screener will be a total nightmare to defend. Muscala is a 36.8% career three-point shooter but he’s only hitting at 34.7% this year on 4.4 attempts per game compared to 37.1% on 3.2 attempts last season with Atlanta.

You can see below that he’s been much better from the left corner than the right corner:

According to NBA Stats, Muscala shot 47% from the left corner last season and 50% from the right corner, so we’ve seen him be successful in those spots in the past. The Sixers really need anything they can get from the bench, and if Muscala is able to be a stretch big and shoot the three closer to his career average, he’ll really help the team moving forward.

Quick note in regard to the power forward position –

Wilson Chandler has been shooting the ball better in January. He scored 10 last night on 4-9 shooting and his three point percentage is 43.5 in 2019, up from a 36.4 number in December. Even the slightest bit of contribution from Chandler can help take the burden off of the the rest of the starting group if one of those guys is having a bad shooting night.

Other notes:

  • Embiid should not have been subbed back into the game when the Sixers were up 17 at the 4:03 mark in the fourth quarter. It’s one thing for him to be a soldier and gut it out, but his only college season was cut short due to a back injury, so I have no idea why he was in there.
  • Jonah Bolden continues to give the Sixers some quality energy minutes off the bench, which also has seemed to help Muscala settle in a bit more defensively and do a bit more perimeter spacing offensively.
  • Victor Oladipo shot 4-11 when guarded by Ben Simmons last night. Bojan Bogdanovic was just 3-9 in 46 possessions against Jimmy Butler.
  • Just 1 minute of run for Furkan Korkmaz
  • 52.9% was the Sixers’ best three-point shooting display of this season
  • The Sixers actually only shot 11 free throws last night, which was their 3rd lowest number of the year. No need when the three-point shot is falling.
  • 9 offensive rebounds to 16 turnovers on the road is something you can certainly live with
  • JJ Redick had one of his classic “I’m going to bury you on DHO” games. It’s a joy to watch when he and Embiid are clicking in the two-man game.
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  • Ai January 18, 2019 at 10:12 am

    Sixers suck. #5 seed going out in the first round to Celtics.

    • D Griffoni January 18, 2019 at 12:04 pm

      1. I personally lean on the side of aggression and would have played Embiid the entire game last night even if that meant an L. It just seems too unsimilar to two decades ago when the team should have shut her down for a few games with her gimpy knee, she gutted through it and we lost her for the red lobster happy hour. But arm wrestling is easy, so if everything’s good a week from now I guess I peed my pants.

      2. Back-to-back best dressed of the season and a somewhat reeling fishing rod has me hopeful for Saturday.

      3. Chris Ryan from the Ringer, despite having bad takes on TV and movies, is hot when it comes to Philly sports.

  • Cal Naughton Jr January 18, 2019 at 10:19 am

    When you have the stereo on at the same time as the TV, how do you control the volume on the TV?

  • phil theecolards January 18, 2019 at 10:25 am

    nice article. Sixers Will be in the ECF this year.

  • Barry January 18, 2019 at 10:31 am

    In all seriousness, is there a more racist group than the Democratic Party? No wonder Trump got more black votes than Hillary.

  • So Taguchi - Phillies Legend January 18, 2019 at 10:32 am

    1. I personally lean on the side of safety and would have sat Embiid last night even if that meant an L. It just seems too similar to two years ago when the team should have shut him down for a few games with his gimpy knee, he gutted through it and we lost him for the season. But armchair coaching is easy, so if everything’s good a week from now I guess we are all good.

    2. Back-to-back best games of the season and a somewhat reeling OKC team has me hopeful for Saturday.

    3. Chris Ryan from the Ringer, despite having good takes on TV and movies, is a dope when it comes to Philly sports.

  • Hextall's Glasses January 18, 2019 at 10:34 am

    I mean you were just saying how much of a joyless slog this season has been. Kinda seems like you’re flip flopping here.

    • Kevin Kinkead January 18, 2019 at 11:26 am

      read the article again

      • Hextall's Glasses January 18, 2019 at 12:06 pm

        I just think it’s fair for the national media to be down on them a little when as you said recently, the team has really failed almost every meaningful test so far this season. Obviously saying they’re self-destructing is asinine, but after they had those two awful losses to the Wizards and Hawks I’ll admit my interest was at an all time low.

  • BigShot January 18, 2019 at 11:15 am


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