Without Philadelphia fans in the arena due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sixers narrowly avoided their first loss in 2020 at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.
They pulled off a 113-107 victory over the Wizards in their first game of the 2020-21 season and overcame an ugly third quarter in which they shot just 5 for 22.
Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 29 points and 14 rebounds, Ben Simmons had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Bradley Beal scored 31 points for Washington and Russell Westbrook had a 21-point triple-double.
The Sixers’ second game is Saturday night against the Knicks.
Here are observations of their opener:
The spotlight rings on the bell
Al Horford rang the Sixers’ ceremonial freedom bell before the team opened against the Celtics last season. This year, Ben Simmons and Embiid shared the credit.
Again, it was a decision dripping with symbolism. Head coach Doc Rivers is adamant that his star duo often collaborate.
“I just think if they win together, they’ll have to do a lot of things together,” he said with a laugh before the match. Get used to it – get used to playing together, get used to running pick-and-rolls together, get used to celebrating together, get used to doing interviews together. They get tied at the hip and so I think anytime they can do things together it’s good. ”
In fact, Simmons and Embiid ran a couple of cozy pick-and-rolls in the first few minutes, the first of which resulted in Simmons missing a pull-up jumper right inside his elbow. The pair also teamed up on a nicely improvised lob after it looked like Embiid was on her way over to set up another screen for Simmons.
Both as a combination and as individuals, there is plenty the duo needs to improve. Simmons had three rather careless turnovers in the first half, all of which stemmed from trying to play fast. Beal tore the ball out of Embidid’s hands during a major Wizards race late in the second quarter when the Sixers’ big man discussed for too long in the position as he scanned for an open cutter.
Embiid went on a scoring tour with Simmons off the floor early in the fourth quarter as the Sixers focused their offense on him and the surrounding shooters. His expertise as a postscorer is the biggest reason they escaped with a win.
Major growth pains for new starting lines
The Sixers’ starters played poorly together. Among the problems were dropouts in transitional defense and scratchy half-court violation. There were few situations in which new additions Seth Curry and Danny Green looked offensive.
After scoring his first three field goals, Tobias Harris badly missed and missed his next 10. River’s goal is to get him to play with the conviction and determination he lacks as a Sixer. This was not a strong start on the front for Harris, who could use a jolt of confidence.
Given that Embiid missed the team’s preseason final with an illness and the Sixers had 26 turnovers in this game, the aforementioned matches might not be surprising. They reversed it about 18 times Wednesday night.
The starters missed their first 10 shots of the third period and seemed confident of something other than trying to get Embiid the ball in the post. When he received it and was double the team, the Sixers’ off-ball movement was not targeted or effective in the third.
Milton and Maxey bright spots
The Sixers played an all-bench unit of Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott and Dwight Howard for a period in both halves.
Maxey made a classic rookie mistake in his first NBA possession and went out of bounds when he received a pass in the left corner from Milton. He submitted his first professional points shortly after, pushing the ball up the floor, driving to the edge out of a Howard pull screen and converting a smooth layup.
As was the case in the preseason, Maxey provided pace, energy and paint scores. He teamed up with Howard twice more in the first half, including a smart baseline backdoor cut, and finished with six points on 3-for-5 shooting and two assists in his debut.
Milton’s defense in the first half against Westbrook was encouraging in terms of the big picture for the Sixers. He remained attached to the nine-time All-Star, mirroring him effectively and not allowing the 32-year-old light curves. These are the kind of difficult tasks that Milton has to deal with in startless positions. Lineups last season with Miton and without Simmons allowed 119.6 points per game. 100 possessions per. Cleaning the glass (in the fifth percentile), so it is worth wondering how such groups will fare.
Offensively, Milton remained a sensible decision-maker and shot threat outside. He had several aggressive drives and also pulled seven free throws. Milton scored 19 points, was in the Sixers’ lineup and guarded Beal in the final minutes.
Matisse Thybulle played first as he acted as a defensive replacement for Curry in the last minute of the game. Rivers had said Thybulle’s limited time with rotation players during the preseason was because the Sixers “took their time” with him after he got an ankle in his left ankle during training camp, but the 23-year-old certainly looks to be on the outside of rotation looks into the moment.