3 observations after Embiid, Maxey spearhead Sixers’ blowout win in Brooklyn originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
NEW YORK — The Sixers’ victory Sunday over the Nets was certainly comprehensive.
With a 121-99 win at Barclays Center, the Sixers continued a run of decisive superiority over the team they swept in Round 1 of last year’s postseason.
Joel Embiid turned in a 32-point, 12-rebound, nine-assist performance.
Tyrese Maxey posted 25 points and 10 assists. De’Anthony Melton scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
Lonnie Walker IV scored a team-high 26 points off the bench for the Nets, who fell to 6-7. The Sixers moved to 10-3.
Kelly Oubre Jr. (fractured rib) was the only Sixer out with an injury. The Nets were down Ben Simmons (nerve impingement in lower back), Cam Thomas (left ankle sprain) and Dennis Smith Jr. (lower back sprain).
Next up for the Sixers is a home-road back-to-back — Tuesday vs. the Cavaliers, Wednesday against the Timberwolves.
Here are observations on their blowout win in Brooklyn:
Batum back, Sixers sharp from the jump
Nicolas Batum returned following a three-game absence for personal reasons and went right back into the Sixers’ starting lineup.
Brooklyn’s offense started out far from its top gear, opening 1 for 7 from the floor, while the Sixers’ execution was much crisper. On the team’s first play, the Sixers set up in a Horns look and then had Embiid make a simple, quick duck-in. Batum assisted an and-one layup by the reigning MVP.
Maxey also hit an early floater off of a nice two-man action with Embiid. Those were Maxey’s first points in the first quarter since his 50-point performance last Sunday vs. the Pacers. Embiid did his usual substantial damage in the first, scoring 13 points in the period and helping the Sixers take a lead as large as 10.
However, the Nets ultimately found a foothold in the game. They started to force the ball from Embiid’s hands a bit by sending more frequent and aggressive double teams, discovered some offensive rhythm, and cut their deficit to 21-20 on an audacious Walker fast-break slam.
Batum’s numbers were modest — he made his only shot, a straight-on-three, and added three rebounds and three assists — but he still showed a well-honed sense for playing next to stars and doing whatever he’s asked defensively. Batum isn’t a defensive stopper, but there’s rarely a situation when he’s switched onto an opponent and appears outmatched.
Though the Nets’ cold shooting helped, Batum’s 7-foot-1 wingspan was also an asset when the Sixers played effective zone defense late in the second and early in the third quarter.
“Weird,” Batum said of his return. “The first five minutes, really weird. I was just trying to get my rhythm back. I didn’t try to do too much. I just tried to be in the flow of the game, the rhythm of the game, play with the team — do the simple stuff on offense and defense. And it worked out. It was a great team win.”
Sixers take exceptional care of ball
The Sixers’ Embiid-less lineup to begin the second quarter initially looked good.
Tobias Harris converted a driving layup and banked in a runner, Maxey sunk a step-back three, and every Sixer seemed to have a clear understanding of his role.
Still, at the moment it often feels like the Sixers’ offensive success in those lineups rides on both 1. Maxey and Harris making contested shots and 2. Second-unit players connecting on wide-open ones. Forcing turnovers and generating open-floor scoring opportunities is always useful, too.
None of the above happened a great amount in Sunday’s second quarter. Danuel House Jr. drilled a corner three, but Jaden Springer and Paul Reed missed unguarded long-range jumpers. Harris drove into traffic and had a layup blocked, Maxey dropped to 2 for 8 from the field with an unsuccessful runner, and the Sixers trailed by a point when Embiid came back in.
Predictably, he had a huge impact. Though Embiid missed several elbow jumpers, he did just about everything else well. Melton was also excellent during a 15-0 run. The best play of that stretch featured Embiid switching into Showtime mode by leading a fast break and flinging a perfect one-handed bounce pass to Melton, who streaked ahead of the pack and threw down a dunk.
The Embiid-Maxey duo posted 13 first-half assists and zero turnovers. As a team, the Sixers had just one giveaway in the first half and five in the game.
“Just trying to make the right play — whoever’s open — and playing with each other in a bunch of different ways,” Embiid said. “With the system we have and the way teams are guarding us, I always have to find ways to make the right plays. That’s all it is.”
Déjà vu with Embiid injury scare
Embiid and Maxey remained sharp to open the second half.
After Maxey’s third three-pointer of the third quarter and an Embiid layup off of a high-low feed from Batum, the Sixers held a 79-58 lead.
The Sixers’ concern soon moved to a matter more important than the game’s result. Cameron Johnson drove in from the baseline and fell into Embiid, who went down and grabbed his right knee.
The play brought back memories of the last time Embiid suited up at Barclays Center. He hurt his right knee in Game 3 of last year’s playoff series against Brooklyn contesting a Johnson layup, suffering an injury that sidelined him for three playoff games.
Fortunately for the Sixers, Embiid didn’t seem affected by Sunday’s injury scare. He kept playing hard late into the third quarter and got as close as possible to his sixth career triple-double. The Sixers’ healthy lead meant Embiid stayed on the bench for the whole fourth quarter. That’s almost always a positive sign.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Batum said of Embiid. “He’s been great for us. … People ask me what it’s like to play with him. The thing that’s shocked me the most is when you play against him, you focus on the scorer. You try to make it stop; he’s a scoring machine. And when you play with him, what’s shocked me is the balance he’s found with when he has to be a team player and when he has to take over.
“Sometimes we need him to take over. I think he’s finding a good balance between those two, and the numbers are the same — even better. His efficiency is insane, and that’s good for us.”