On a night where Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris went 7-27 from the floor, you’d think the Sixers would find themselves in a dog fight.

Not this time.

Ben Simmons set the pace, the defense smothered, and Seth Curry looked great against his former team, leading to a 14-point home win that was about as comprehensive as you can get.

The Sixers out-volumed Dallas by a significant margin, winning 90-78 in total field goal attempts. They stole the ball 11 times, blocked six shots, and only turned the ball over on eight possessions, resulting in a cocktail of peripheral ingredients that, when combined, presented a very aromatic and pleasant scent. It was the basketball version of an exotic herbal tincture, chock full of medicinal benefits.

“I thought Ben set the tone and Joel was phenomenal,” said Doc Rivers. “Seth got his hands (in there). We told him that he should have known their plays, which he did (laughing). But I just thought our defensive energy – we shot 43% and didn’t have a great offensive night – and yet we were up 20 (points) for most of the game. Dallas is a great offensive team and for us to play defense like that was special.”

“What I’ve liked about this team so far is that we’ve found different ways,” he continued. “We play the same, but something else happens during the game, where we have to do something else, and they’ve had the ability to do that. That’s a great sign moving forward.”

The only blemish on the night was a knee contusion for Harris, which knocked him out of the game. Rivers didn’t have an update on Thursday night, but we should get something Friday morning after the Sixers run tests to make sure the body part is “structurally sound.”

Taking the ball away and not giving it up

The Sixers forced a season-high 22 turnovers in this game while coughing it up a season-low eight times. That’s incredible when you really sit back and think about it. That’s a +14 margin in that department. According to the stats folks with the team, eight turnovers is the fewest committed since last February, in a win against the crappy New York Knicks.

Specifically, the swipe number was ridiculously high, and the Sixers are now 12-1 when they steal the ball at least 10 times, as you see here:

Perhaps the best number from last night was the fact that the Sixers forced seven Luka Doncic turnovers, which isn’t a season-high for him, but it’s way higher than the 4.9 he’s averaging this month. That’s a difference of two full possessions.

“I think we were locked in for all four quarters defensively,” Simmons said afterward. “There are always going to be lapses, but overall I think that’s the best defensively game, collectively, that we’ve played.”

When you go back through this game film, the Sixers did a really nice job in pick and roll defense against Doncic. There were 3-4 times where they denied lobs to Boban Marjanovic, they swiped a cross-court pass, and Embiid stepped in front of Maxi Kleber on a pocket pass. Even Mike Scott got in on the action, with the backdoor swipe in the late third quarter.

“I like taking those challenges (of playing against guys like Doncic),” Simmons added. “Just tell me who to guard.”

Only Memphis and Minnesota have more 10-steal games than the Sixers this season, who have 13, according to Stathead. The Sixers are currently third in the NBA with an average of 8.5 steals per night.

This is a similar storyline to what we talked about last year, when the Sixers were not a good offensive team but started out well enough because they were playing great defense and just clobbering teams on the glass. As a result, they’d often build up these enormous field goal attempt discrepancies, which was enough to make up for just average shooting. That was pretty much the case in this game, where the defense and ball protection provided a huge FGA gap.

Bench steps up

The Sixers were in need of a good bench game, and they got it:

  • Dwight Howard: 14 points on 6-7 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks
  • Shake Milton: 10/6/4 in 19 minutes
  • Furkan Korkmaz: 9 points and a pair of assists
  • Mike Scott: hit a couple of threes and grabbed three rebounds
  • Matisse Thybulle: defensive energy, as always

Said Rivers of his second unit:

“I actually thought they turned the game around. I thought our first unit defensively was phenomenal, but was really sluggish offensively. Our second unit came in, kept playing defense, and then we started scoring in transition. I actually thought their energy changed the game.”

24 fast break points for the Sixers on Thursday night, which is phenomenal. They lead the league with 16 FBPS per game and eclipsed that number significantly in this one.

No worries for Embiid

Joel Embiid has gone a few games without shooting the ball well, but still poured in 23 because he was able to get to the line 12 times and hit 11 of those efforts.

Over the last three, Embiid has shot just 14-53 from the field while averaging just 22 points. Whereas Toronto trapped and threw hard double teams at him, Joel didn’t turn the ball over once against Dallas; he just wasn’t hitting.

“He just missed some shots,” Rivers said. “He still ended up with 23, 7, and 4. You know what I mean? He missed some great shots. I would take most of the shots he took. He’s gotta get away from trying to draw fouls, and just go get fouls, but other than that, I’m not concerned.”

That sounds like the same thing, drawing fouls vs. getting fouls, but there’s a clear distinction, and it goes back to what we saw from Embiid during his first three years in the league.

When Joel was younger, sometimes you would see him play only for the contact and use the rip through to bang arms and get himself to the line. What he does this year is attack more directly, which results in fouls coming the same way. It’s just that the end goal has kind of changed.

Let me try to describe it this way:

Previously, Joel’s mindset was always, A) “let me initiate contact here and get to the line.

Now, it’s B) “let’s attack hard and I’ll probably draw the contact anyway.”

You know what I mean? It used to only be goal A, but now goal A is wrapped into goal B, and they typically come as a package. That’s what pretty much boosted his game into MVP territory, the fact that he wasn’t only looking for one thing specifically in the paint, but the contact came as he went about his offensive possessions on a nightly basis.

Just a little bit of a funk, but he’ll get out of it.

Good win, happy Friday. We made it to the weekend.