Now that was a great basketball game, despite the near-heart attack at the end.

For starters, we had full strength teams on the floor. No COVID-ravaged eight-man joke rotations. Superstars were out there playing high-IQ basketball in a matchup between the top teams in each conference. It was, by a long shot, the most meaningful game the Sixers have played this year.

One thing that took away from the enjoyment was the lack of fans, which was a shame, since the building would have been rocking on Wednesday night. The roof would have come flying off after the Tobias Harris game-winner and landed somewhere in the Navy Yard. The other detriment was the Lakers’ constant whining to the officials on every other trip down the floor. For a minute there it looked like the 2008 Big East tournament, only with more whistles and more Bob Huggins-inspired complaining, if that’s even possible.

Other than that, awesome game.

Maybe the term “litmus test” is a trite cliche, but in this case, it’s a marquee win for the Sixers, who, to this point, had racked up victories against lesser squads en route to the top of the east. If there were any questions about the early-season resume or strength of schedule, then this one is a nice feather in the cap to help solidify positive feelings about this team and their postseason potential.

Of course, it wasn’t pretty when LA was ripping off 11 straight points in an effort to steal this game. Joel Embiid turned the ball over twice, Danny Green fired up an air ball, and Harris was whistled for an offensive foul on a batch of offensive possessions where the Sixers just looked totally out of whack. People started making Brett Brown jokes on Twitter. It was bad.

But on the final play were they bailed out by Harris, who drove to his left, separated from Alex Caruso, and knocked down a mid-range game-winner:

Head coach Doc Rivers broke down the play:

“It was just a multiple option play. I thought Danny Green read it perfect. The first option, we set a pin down for Seth (Curry), with Joel. We told them to give it a good look, and if it’s not there, throw it to Seth. Tobias slips into a pick and roll, and Los Angeles is switching everything, so whoever is on Tobias, he’d be at the nail. Then we went flat and the spacing was great. So it was great that we worked a set down to the last option. Nice to see that and we showed a lot of composure.”

Agreed. It was very nicely done, and this has been late-game bread and butter for the Sixers under Rivers. Without a bona-fide perimeter creator or isolation scorer, he’s instead gone to these multi-action looks and asked his team to cycle through reads while making the correct decisions. More often than not, they are getting it totally right.

Said Harris on his game-winner:

“Just confidence, wanting to be in those spots. I’m a person who visualizes myself in those spots. When the opportunity came, out of the timeout, me and Seth were talking and basically discussing how they’re likely to switch that pick and roll coming off of Joel, if he’s not open, and to iso at the top and just let me get to my spot. That’s the shot I work on time and time again, but in those moments, (it’s about) just being confident enough to let it go and being okay with the result, and tonight it fared well.”

One other key question for Doc.

On the earlier possession, that offensive foul on Harris –

Crossing Broad: “Did you think about challenging that call?”

Rivers: “No, if I had, then we wouldn’t have had that last play to draw up.”

Crossing Broad: “Just needed to keep that timeout.” 

Rivers: “Yeah, if I had two I would have used (the challenge). I did think that call would have stood because there was a little bit of movement. Not much. But when it can go either way it usually doesn’t go your way on those calls, if you know what I’m saying. I wish I had that extra timeout and would have done it then, but not with one. You need that last timeout.”

That’s why he didn’t challenge. He wanted to hold on to that timeout.

Earning his money

Not only did Harris hit the game-winner, but he poured in 24 points on 10-16 shooting and has now scored 20+ in five of his last six games. His per-36 point totals are very close to a career-high, with a 21.4 number falling just short of the 21.8 he was averaging out in Los Angeles, when he was coached by…. guess who? Doc Rivers.

A couple of Tobias Harris stats to share:

  • field goal percentage: 52.5 (currently a single-season career high)
  • points per 36 minutes: 21.4 (currently second best for a seasonal stop with one team)
  • three point shooting: 46.1% (currently also a single-season career high)
  • true shooting: .619 (career high)
  • player efficiency rating: 18.7 (career high)

So on and so forth. He’s quietly played this way into All Star Game contention.

Le-Flagrant Foul

A lot of talk about the foul that sent Embiid to bench, holding his back.

It was whistled a flagrant because LeBron James extended his arms while Embiid was in the air and didn’t attempt to play the ball:

First flagrant foul for LeBron since 2014, and only the sixth of his career, according to the broadcast.

Embiid himself then drew a flagrant for elbowing Anthony Davis a few minutes later, which drew the ire of Sixers Twitter. My take was that it looked like a natural basketball play, but I guess they ruled that his elbow came down after the rip-through motion completed, resulting in contact that could have injured the other player.

Here’s what Embiid had to say about the LeBron flagrant, and then his flagrant:

“First of all, I mean, you look at it, that’s a very dangerous play. I guarantee you that if it was me, I would have probably been ejected from the game, which has happened in the past with me getting flagrant fouls really for nothing. When you compare that to the one that I got, which I thought I didn’t really hit him, I didn’t elbow him. I might have touched him, but I don’t think it deserved the flagrant, if you’re gonna compare those two. Those are tough plays, and I just thought, you know, it should’ve been a flagrant 2.”

The way the rule is written, you can be whistled for a flagrant if the other player is on the receiving end of contact that can result in an injury.

That itself is somewhat vague and arbitrary, and problem in this specific case is that one play is a natural basketball sequence and the other is not, with LeBron putting his arms up with no intent to play the ball. So how can they be penalized the same way? There’s gotta be a way to tweak the wording of the rule so that we’re differentiating from “basketball plays” and sequences where guys are just hacking or fouling intentionally or trying to keep guys from getting to the rim.

Travelin’ Man

LeBron got away with at least two traveling no-calls in this game. The first was the transition spin move in the first half, and the second one is here:

I watched this a bunch of times from both angles, and maybe I’m going insane over, but it looks like the gather step comes on the left leg, and then it’s right, left, right, into Ben Simmons and up for the basket.

Then, if you freeze the frame, he actually does not release the ball before touching back down on his left foot, so you could have whistled him twice for traveling on one sequence:

Bang-bang play. That’s incredibly hard to call in real time.

But if you’re a superstar, you get the benefit of the doubt. And when you’re the #1 superstar in the NBA, you get even more of the benefit, if that’s even possible.

Frank Vogel?

I have a simple question for you on a Thursday morning.

Is Frank Vogel a Philly guy? He grew up in Wildwood.

Let’s see what Twitter has to say:

Sixers fans have spoken. Frank Vogel is not a Philly guy.

Other notes

  • Somebody needs to sit down with Caruso and have a long, hard talk. That hair is pretty much gone, and it ain’t coming back. Either you shave it off or set up an appointment with Philadelphia’s Dr. Paul Glat, hair restoration specialist. You cannot be in receding hairline purgatory. You’re either all-in or all-out.
  • Marc Gasol always does a nice job on Embiid, but that early foul and technical was big. It helped Joel find his rhythm  and get comfortable at the foul line.
  • Lots of backdoor stuff for the Lakers early on. Gasol is a good passing big and LA plays a smart game, so if you’re going to play high in those passing lanes when the center is on the perimeter, the path to the rim is gonna be wide open.
  • Good Harris defensive game. He had some nice possessions against Davis and he’s improved that part of his game this season.
  • End of the third quarter, final sequence, thought it was a really smart play by Tyrese Maxey to just float that ball up in the air and get the shot off. He 100% knew how much time he had on the shot clock and had a great sense of the situation. Seems like a nothing play but says a lot about his basketball IQ.
  • We don’t need the in-game interview with the coaches. Can hardly even hear what they’re saying anyway, with the masks on.
  • Not a good free throw shooting night from the Sixers, just 16-26 with Dwight Howard going 0-4.
  • Multiple instances of Danny Green having trouble staying with Dennis Schroder on dribble-drives. The lateral quickness is no longer there.
  • Furkan Korkmaz had a huge three to stop an LA run in the fourth quarter, which lead to Vogel picking up a technical. Sixers Twitter universally seemed to hate the sub, and then he spurred a four-point swing, so go figure.
  • Great slip from Doris Burke when she said “Embiid said he loves playing with Joel Simmons” this year.

Good morning.