Playing the Knicks Cures All – Observations from Sixers 115, New York 106

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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If we’ve learned anything, you never bet against the Sixers at home. Not even when they’re playing without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Thursday night’s win saw Brett Brown’s team improve to a league-best 28-2 at the Wells Fargo Center. They’re 9-21 on the road, which is an incredibly baffling disparity.

And if we’ve learned another thing, it’s that the New York Knicks absolutely stink. Playing that team is like a panacea for all of your illnesses, a miracle elixir that can cure short term fan base grumpiness.

It was a sleepy crowd last night, sort of “grumbly,” which I know isn’t a word, but it fits. There were grumbles during introductions and at certain portions of the game, which was played in an arena that was maybe 80% full, if I had to guess. No Embiid, no Simmons, crappy opponent, crappy weather, school night, etc – those were the mitigating factors.

But they got a big performance out of one of their healthy big money guys, so let’s start with him.

Tobias Harris

14-21 for 34 points, 3-6 from three plus seven rebounds and seven assists.

This was a “prove you’re worth $180 million” type of game for Tobias who got plenty of the ball with Joel and Ben on the floor, and he delivered, shooting 66% from the floor and starting the game like he was shot out of a cannon. He hit the big three pointer in the fourth quarter that killed off a 8-0 Knicks run and essentially sealed it for the Sixers.

Afterward, I asked Tobias if he felt the weight of playing this season with a big money contract, and if he’s heard any of the noise surrounding his recent performances:

“There’s obviously outside noise that comes involved with that. I always look at it like, the only noise that really carries weight for me is noise in our locker room and with the guys on our team, and the coaching staff. I truly believe that you can ask every single one of them in the locker room the value that I bring to this team, on and off the floor, and they will vouch for that. That’s the credibility I go with. There’s obviously noise, but the only noise that matters to me is from my teammates, from my coaching staff and from myself, really. I try to do my job on a daily basis and be a professional every day and continue to work.”

That’s all good. I don’t think anyone would ever question his personality, character, or locker room fit, Sixers fans just need him to look like a max player on nights like these, and to his credit on Thursday, he delivered.

I asked Brett something similar, and I’ll give you the question and answer both here, for better context:

Crossing Broad: Brett, you know that when guys like Tobias sign big money contracts in the offseason, that there’s always more scrutiny that comes with it. Have you sensed anything to suggest that he’s hearing that or reacting to that in a certain way? Maybe approaching that in a certain way?

Brett Brown: Yes, but I don’t believe that it’s tilted the way that you said. I would be naive to think there’s not a hint of that. I think he’s really competitive, and if you paid him a nickel or 170 million dollars, I think you’re gonna get a highly competitive player. I do hear what you’re saying; I don’t weight it to the volume that maybe you’ve phrased it, and I think that he just is a highly competitive person. That’s why he’s good. He’s very prideful. That’s why he’s good. He’s trying to do his part obviously to earn his keep, but I think it’s way deeper than that; I think he just wants to be on a winning team for a long time and try to help steer this program to trying to find a championship.

Anybody see any similarities between Tobias Harris and Kevin Hayes? I think we’d all say that both are good players who perhaps benefited from the typical overpay mentality of free agency. They aren’t going to stuff the stat sheet like their superstar teammates, or like other guys in the NBA and NHL who are making similar amounts of money, but you see flashes of brilliance from both that makes you think there’s more to be pulled out of them, perhaps another level for them to reach.

Yes? No? Just a thought.

J Rich and heart

Josh Richardson said Wednesday night that the Sixers needed to show more heart, which is great, but they also need him to hit a shot and start playing better on the floor.

He came out ice cold last night, missing his first six shots, then went 5-7 from there to finish 5-13 on the evening with a 0-4 mark from downtown. He’s shooting 7-28 from three in the month of February (25%) and is averaging 9.6 points on 10.4 shots per game.

Most of what he took last night was perimeter stuff, with some long mid-range looks off pick and rolls. Richardson typically pulls up for those types of looks coming off the screen, which looks like this on a shot chart:

Richardson isn’t making Harris and Al Horford money, so he escapes some of that scrutiny, but they need more from him, too. He’s been meandering a bit in the paint and I think he’d benefit from under-thinking the game, if that makes sense.

Al Horford

Wonky game for him. He missed one of the easiest layups you will ever see and committed a traveling violation late in the game while the Knicks were on a run, but went 4-4 from three and hit two straight bombs that really put the Sixers in front.

He actually finished 1-6 inside the three point line, which is goofy to me, but tossed nine assists last night, picking out smart and simple passes from the elbow while finding a cutter or two along the way. That was probably the best part of his game last night, just sort of simplifying and making the right reads.

For what it’s worth, Horford has now attempted 241 three pointers in 55 games this year, which is way more than the 203 he tried in 68 appearances last year. He’s shooting 33% for the Sixers, which is down from the 36% he shot in his final Celtics year. The vast majority of his open looks continue to be catch and shoot three pointers, and he said after the game that he did expect to shoot this many three point attempts when he signed in Philly. It was an incredibly brief answer that went like this:

Crossing Broad: When you were considering signing here, did you have an inkling that you would be shooting as many threes as you are this year?

Horford: Yeah, yeah I had a good idea. That was something that was mentioned.

Alright then!

Shake shake shake

Shake Milton continues to play very well at the point guard spot. He started last night and went 6-7 from floor and 5-5 from three, scoring 19 points and adding four assists while turning the ball over just once. This really is a bright spot that’s been glossed over due to the the post-Simmons and post-Embiid injury woe.

We also asked Shake straight-up if he has any explanation for why this team is so good at home and so bad on the road:

“I don’t know man, honestly. Just gotta do a better job of making sure our energy is there. When we’re here at home, you’ve got the crowd around you, and if you don’t bring it they’re going to boo you. It’s just about bringing that same energy and being prepared to play on the road, when the crowd isn’t behind you.”

I think the solution here is obvious. Sixers fans must travel to every road game and purchase all the tickets.

Best seat in the house

This was my view for part of the first quarter last night, with the Chic-fil-A cow sitting in the media area before going onto the court to do a promo:

“Nothing but Chikin”

Other notes:

  • New York absolutely stinks.
  • Have a fantastic weekend.
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2 Responses

  1. How did I KNOW today Sixer fans would be pumping their chests today because Tobias Harris and Al Horford “CAME UP BIG!”?

    Have plans for the parade been finalized?

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