It’s hard to accurately describe just how hot the Sixers were on Wednesday night.

Saying that they were “on fire” wouldn’t do the shooting performance justice. It’s like they doused a flamethrower in gasoline and then fired it directly into a volcano. It was hotter than South Florida in July. It was like wearing an electric blanket in a sauna.

Doc Rivers’ squad shot 62% and hit 18 three pointers in a 141 to 136 victory. The only reason it was close is because Bradley Beal got in on the flamethrower action, scoring 60 points on a 20-35 shooting night. The Sixers let up off the gas, didn’t defend well in the third quarter, and committed a couple of dumb and needless errors, like technical fouls and turnovers. It also helped that Russell Westbrook bricked a late three-pointer and decided to shoot the ball down the stretch when his teammate was on 59 points.

But similar to the first Wizards game, the Sixers really executed down the stretch, going on a 8-0 run that took them to about 1:10 remaining on the clock and finishing the job from there. Beal cooled off in the fourth, scoring just three points in that quarter as Philly stood taller on defense to close it out.

“We just let up, honestly” said Rivers postgame. “I thought we were playing a terrific game. I thought, defensively, you know they are second in the league offensively, so I thought we were doing terrific, and then really, the second unit, they’ve been great for us, but (Wednesday) they were not. I thought it was more of a mindset. We came in with an offensive mindset in the middle of the third and it changed the game. We’re not gonna win them all pretty, but we’ll take a win, for sure.”

That’s 20 straight home wins for the Sixers, who improve to a league-best 7-1 record. I’m not sure they’ve beaten what we would call a “quality” opponent yet, depending on how you feel about the Orlando Magic, but if they stack a couple of wins against Brooklyn tonight and Denver on Saturday, they’ll pretty much solidify their spot on top of the POWER RANKINGS at ESPN and myriad other outlets.

Plays that count

There were a couple of really good sequences down the stretch for the Sixers. This really was similar to the first Wizards game, during the season opener, when Philly just executed in the sub-three minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Thiago pulled this key clip, which is the possession on which they pretty much put the game away:

This is excellent early recognition from Joel. He knows he’s going to get that double team, sees it coming, and dumps the ball off to Ben Simmons in the near-side dunker spot. Ben, knowing he has a clear height advantage over Ish Smith, goes strong to the rack for the bucket, and 1.

That sequence specifically addresses two weaknesses for those two players – double team recognition, and finishing through contact at the rim. They passed with flying colors.

Here’s a pair of key defensive plays they made down the stretch, with two blocks on Beal:

This is just great commitment and anticipation. On the first play, Embiid senses that Beal is going to ignore the screen and drive to the rack, so Joel leaves Thomas Bryant and peels off early, getting up to reject the shot. And on the second one, with Matisse Thybulle getting his hands up, he disrupts that entry pass and then gets the rearview contest at the rim.

At NBA stats, you can sort through what we call “clutch” games, where the score is within five points with five minutes or less on the clock. It’s one of my favorite stats because it helps us identify how the team performs in close games.

The Sixers have played three of these “clutch” games this season and logged the following stats:

  • 123.5 offensive rating
  • 63.3 defensive rating
  • 60.2 net rating
  • +23 overall
  • 54.5 field goal percentage

That’s incredible stuff. A 63.3 defensive rating in three close, fourth quarter games. They really are executing when it matters in the handful of tight contests they’ve played. And yes, two of these games have taken place against Washington, but this is a good thing to see as the schedule gets harder in the coming weeks.

Bradley Beal’s 60-piece

Question –

Why not put Ben Simmons on Bradley Beal to lock him up?

Answer, from Rivers:

“I guess after 60 (points) we probably could have made the change. We liked what Ben was doing as a roamer, off of (Russell) Westbrook, being able to run. We thought it would allow him to get a lot of rebounds and push the break. We felt strongly that we could get easy baskets, so that part of it worked. The other didn’t.”

It’s true, they did have success with Ben cleaning up missed shots and pushing the pace. He’s less able to do that if he’s stuck to the shot-taker and focused on defense.

For what it’s worth, Simmons and Beal didn’t even spend 30 seconds matched up together on the Sixers’ end, according to the data:

Danny Green handled those duties, along with Thybulle in the fourth quarter.

It’s an interesting strategy from Rivers, who essentially just said “screw it” and decided he was going to live with Beal going off while focusing on the offensive side of the floor instead. The Sixers more or less decided to fight fire with fire and try to outgun the opponent instead. They effectively did that while clamping down in the fourth quarter, on a series of plays, when it really mattered.

Other notes:

  • Joel Embiid is playing at a MVP level right now. We haven’t written about him much, and there’s honestly not much to say. He’s been absolutely dominant on both ends of the floor.
  • Seth Curry shot 11-14 and 6-7 from three. He’s more than a sniper and has looked good in the pick roll as well. His game is more dynamic than I think most Sixers fans realized.
  • Tobias Harris, another strong effort. 19 points on 8-16 shooting from the REIGNING, DEFENDING Eastern Conference player of the week <Bruce Buffer voice>
  • Green is shooting the ball much better. He had 15 points last night and is now in double digits for three games running.
  • Second unit didn’t play well aside from Shake Milton, who had 19. He very quietly looks like a sixth man of the year candidate. Doc’s east coast Lou Williams.
  • The only negative from this game is that they blew an opportunity to pull the starters early and minimize their minutes on the front end of a back to back.