PHILADELPHIA - Three takeaways from the Philadelphia 76ers' 133-132 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
1. Sixers looking like the Sixers of old... for three quarters
For the second game running, Philadelphia showed flashes of the team that played like the best squad that closed last regular season. Much of that starts with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. While both finished with impressive stat lines – Simmons with 22 points, 8 rebounds and 13 assists, and Embiid 42 points, 18 rebounds and 4 blocks – it is how the pair are boosting their supporting cast, that represents the biggest positive for Brett Brown.
The pair are not only playing like All-Stars, but they have played well together this week, in sustained stretches, for the first time all season. Embiid is playing like an MVP candidate -- more on this in a minute -- while Simmons played the perfect sidekick tonight.
The Australian had a season-high 13 assists against Charlottte. Just as Simmons did as a rookie, he feasted in transition and this was especially damaging to the Hornets as the Sixers built a big lead through the second and third quarters.
Dario Saric coming to life is a welcome boost to Simmons and Embiid, and a vital reason why the pair have recaptured their form.
Saric made four first half three-pointers, all of which were assisted by Simmons. The impact of his shot making is painfully obvious, as it is vital to opening up space for the Sixers, especially when Simmons and Markelle Fultz share the floor.
If the Croatian can maintain the progress he has shown this week then Philadelphia has a much better chance of treading water to commence games. I’ll admit that’s a peculiar objective to start the game with, but as long as Brown continues starting without his best unit on the floor, it is an accomplishment nonetheless.
On a personal note for Saric, it’s tremendous seeing him finally launch into the NBA season. There has been much conjecture locally over his slow start and consecutive impressive performances go a long way to ending such discussions.
With Robert Covington and J.J. Redick also continuing their good form, Philadelphia’s best players are all playing well for the first time this season. Sometimes it can really be that simple.
The Sixers have plenty to clean up after a lame fourth quarter that should have cost them victory. Embiid took over in crunch time and provided just enough offence to combat Kemba Walker and send the game to overtime. Philadelphia deserves credit winning on the night, but a complete four quarter performance remains illusive.
2. Jonah time
Brett Brown has been talking all week about his desire to experiment with the fringes of his playing rotation. Jonah Bolden was the benefactor of Brown’s investigations tonight, as the Australian received first quarter minutes for the first time all season.
Bolden checked in at the 3:51 minute mark and initially lined up alongside Simmons, Embiid, Redick and Wilson Chandler in a hyper-long unit. The Sixers returned to a more conventional lineup when Simmons went to the bench with Bolden playing the four next to Embiid during his seven first-half minutes, essentially replacing the injured Mike Muscala.
The biggest compliment Bolden can be given, is that he looked very comfortable in his first legitimate NBA minutes. He adjusted to the pace of the game and contributed to an impressive Sixers spurt that bracketed the first quarter break.
Offensively, Bolden’s usage was miniscule and that was to be expected. For the most part, he set screens and spaced the floor around Embiid.
It’s Bolden’s role on the other end that intrigues me the most. Playing alongside Embiid creates an interior pairing that warrants further investigation.
Theoretically, an Embiid-Bolden pairing can switch responsibilities on opposition big men while ensuring the Sixers maintain a lengthy rim protector at all times. Embiid will always be the default five when the pair share the court, so the onus will be on Bolden to prove he can defend smaller forwards on the perimeter. It was only a small sample tonight but the early returns were promising.
“I think he can play," Brown said of Bolden post-game. "I was excited to throw him in there and had confidence in that environment.”
Bolden has plenty of improvement left in his game, and tonight showed that he is progressing quicker than most thought. As we have touched on during the first month of the season, playing sound defence and spacing the floor are two early objectives that will largely dictate playing time as a rookie.
Bolden made his first career NBA three-point field goal to close out the third quarter. This basket tied the game at 33 and drew a loud ovation from the local crowd.
3. Embiid is playing like an MVP
No breaking news here, but Embiid has started the season like a man possessed and tonight was his most impactful performance yet. He was the sole reason Philadelphia generated enough offence to match a Kemba Walker explosion in the fourth quarter.
Walker exploded for 19 points in the fourth, and his nasty step back jumper gave Charlotte a 119-114 lead that should have been enough to steal victory. Philadelphia needed their best player to stand up and he delivered.
Embiid scored 16 points in the final eight minutes of regulation, including the Sixers last seven to force the game into overtime. He is first player in 52 years to post eight 30-10 games within their team’s first 13 games to begin a season.
The Sixers now head to Memphis to face the Grizzlies on the second night of a back-to-back. Sunday Morning’s (AEDT) game kicks off a three game road trip for Philadelphia.