Rewind to the summer when General Manager Elton Brand rebuilt this Sixers squad.

Who gets the ball in crunch time?

That was probably the biggest question facing this team following the departures of Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, two guys who found themselves taking the final shot in myriad games over the course of their careers.

We had our first closer situation of the new campaign last night, and Brett Brown went to his best player, Joel Embiid, designing a low post look for the big man that resulted in a foul, two converted free throws, and a two-point win to push the Sixers to 3-0 on the season.

“He was our crown jewel in a blatant way tonight,” said Brown of the Sixers’ All-Star center. “We have talent, no doubt, but he emerged in significant ways throughout the game. We did a pretty good of executing a play at the end of the game, trying to find ways to either get him straight up or high/low and we were able to do that. But Joel Embiid carried us tonight and we needed him particularly offensively.”

Let’s talk about it.

The play

It was just a simple high/low design here to isolate Embiid in the paint and let him do his thing.

Here’s the clip:

Nothing complicated here; It’s just a loose box setup on a SLOB (sideline out of bounds) with a clear out for Joel Embiid. There’s a little fake flare screen from Horford there, who pops to the three point line and throws a nice pass inside.

Here’s a crappy diagram showing the mirrored movement of Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson, who are just clearing out their defenders to set up the high/low:

The Sixers like to enter the post with the power forward. If you watched a lot of the games in February and March of last year, you’d often see Tobias Harris throwing this high/low pass from a similar area, and now they’re doing it with Al Horford, like an interchangeable part. They’re even running that JJ Redick/Ben Simmons late game brush cut with Horford now, which shows how versatile the veteran big man is.

Joel had 36 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, a block, and went 10-10 from the line. Fantastic game from him, with the only blemish being those seven turnovers. At times he put the ball on the ground when he didn’t have to, and navigating double teams is still an adventure, but I wanted to highlight this play here as a really smart sequence from him:

The Sixers come down the floor in transition, nothing there, so the ball finds Embiid on the perimeter, who asks Simmons to clear out and give him some room. When the double comes, Joel sees it, and the off-ball movement from Josh Richardson, Horford, and Tobias Harris results a couple of quick passes and a wide-open catch and shoot three pointer.

Really nice stuff there, and if Joel can do that consistently, the Sixers will punish teams that throw the late double on him.

Three pointers

11-41 from downtown last night for a 26.8% mark.

Too many threes? Probably, but a lot of them were really clean looks. Atlanta gave the Sixers 48 uncontested looks in total last night and Philly only hit 17 of those shots, resulting in a 35.4% mark overall. Harris and Richardson combined to go 5-17 on uncontested looks and 3-14 from the three-point line. Rookie Matisse Thybulle was invited to shoot and finished 2-7 from the arc.

The Sixers actually shot better on contested looks, going 18-34 for a 52.9% mark.

Of course, the game was won on a pair of free throws, which lends credence to the opinion that the Sixers need to just keep pounding the ball into the paint, but they did manage 23 free throws prior to the Embiid sequence, so they were getting to the foul line at a decent clip anyway. More than anything, I think you’d like to see some of those early transition threes turn into structured half court possessions, which is what probably inflated the number. Atlanta just sat back and invited some of those looks, which the Sixers missed.

Bottom line, I don’t see Tobias Harris having a lot of 1-9 three point nights this season. Even if he goes 3-9 last night, you’re looking at the Sixers finishing 13-41, which isn’t amazing, but it’s 31.7%, which would have been good enough to probably escape Atlanta without a Vince Carter attempt at the buzzer.

Through three games, the Sixers are shooting 34.7 threes per game and getting to the line 30.3 times, so last night was indeed a slight aberration despite a small season sample size to look at. This is worth revisiting after the west coast road trip.

Trae Young

7-20 from the floor with 25 points on the night, his least effective performance in a still-nascent season.

The Sixers sort of paced themselves with Young, giving him a little freedom early and then clamping down as the game went on, with Ben Simmons stepping up to defend him in the fourth quarter. That resulted in a lot of sequences where Young was pushed off the three point line and settled for floaters instead.

Here are Trae’s juxtaposed shot charts with the first three quarters on your left, and the fourth quarter on your right:

Effective stuff there. Young ended up scoring nine of his points from the foul line, so they limited his ability to damage them from deep.

The Sixers also didn’t overcommit to the blitz, which you saw a bit of Monday night. Brett Brown also threw some 2-2-1 full court pickups at the Hawks, not a ton, but on a handful of occasions, just to try to mix up looks and keep Atlanta on their toes.

Flagrant 2


This is not a flagrant 2:

Scott was ejected for that? I couldn’t believe it yo.

And yes, he’s not playing the ball; he’s trying to stop a layup attempt after a bad Ben Simmons turnover, but there’s nothing about that chest or shoulder bump that warrants a flagrant 2 violation, which is defined as contact that is both unnecessary and excessive. Scott’s contact there is certainly unnecessary, but it’s not excessive, so just give the guy a flagrant 1 and we can move on with our lives.

Other notes

  • Atlanta’s possessions down the stretch were really bad. They went four straight with an Alex Len three, a John Collins flubbed alley-oop, a traveling violation, and then got a shot blocked. They looked like a team that didn’t have a ton of experience playing in close games.
  • No second half minutes for James Ennis.
  • Shake Milton looked good before hyperextending his knee (update when they get back to Philly)
  • Embiid had some adventures in the traveling department, got away with a couple that I saw, whistled for some others that were blatantly obvious.
  • The technical foul for the Embiid shimmy was whatever.
  • Brett Brown challenged an offensive foul call midway through the second half and was unsuccessful. I don’t think you’re gonna see officials overturn a lot of calls this year, similar to what the NFL is doing with the pass interference stuff.
  • I’d still rather see Raul Neto or Trey Burke out there in the early part of the season. Point Richardson is excellent for defensive purposes, but he isn’t necessarily going to create a lot of open shots for his teammates. You went out and got two backup point guards in the summer and they aren’t playing a role.