Philadelphia 76ers: A tale of two halves against NBA elites

Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers have played two consecutive primetime games against Western Conference powers. There has been some patterns in both games for the Sixers as they played without the services of Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic.

They jumped out of the gates with fire in both games.

The Philadelphia 76ers opened up Thursday night’s game in Oklahoma City with a first quarter performance that resulted in 37 points. Their ball movement was reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs’ title runs in the mid-2000s. It is not so coincidental as Brett Brown is a Gregg Popovich prodigy.

Players were hustling up and down the court and the ball was going to the open man. Their quickness and athleticism was too much for shorthanded Thunder to conquer as their own superstar did not see the court. Paul George remains sidelined with a shoulder injury.

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The Sixers had a first half output of 60 points and looked faster without their big men on the floor.

Two nights later, the Golden State Warriors came to Philadelphia for a visit. It was a similar situation.

The Sixers scored 32 points in the first quarter and 35 in the second. Once again, the ball movement was never stagnant. The free-flowing, fast-paced offense put the Warriors defense to work as they entered halftime with a 12-point lead.

In both first halves, we saw the Sixers play unselfish basketball. With several players able to create their own offense, the flow never faltered. It had some folks jumping the gun and comparing it to the Boston Celtics situation with Kyrie Irving.

The Sixers play at a pace of 106.1 on the season which is good for seventh highest in the league. Over the last three games, that number has increased to 109.9. That number was at 107.1 in the three games prior.

“Yeah they will absolutely need Joel Embiid for the postseason, but this offense actually looks better with the franchise player off the floor,” said some over-exaggerating, carried-away,  analytics-consuming viewers. That includes myself.

Then the second pattern proved why smart people would never believe the Sixers to be a more powerful offense without The Process.

Against the Thunder, the Sixers saw their second half lead of 11 points vanish into thin air.

Why did this happen?

Their free-flowing offensive output was unsustainable. The ball did not continue moving rapidly along the perimeter. More players began to take more dribbles. They started to play a your-turn-my-turn brand of basketball.

Momentum suffered drastically, especially on the road in a hostile environment like Chesapeake Arena. The Sixers were outscored by seven points throughout the second half.

Missed shots by the Thunder and a few big-time scores by the Sixers allowed them to squeak away with a 108-104 victory.

This type of second half re-emerged two nights later when they hosted the Warriors.

The Warriors can flip the switch on the fly against any team whenever their hearts desire. But the third quarter was one of the worst that the Sixers have played all season.

They outscored the Sixers 38-23 in the third quarter and seized control of a game that once looked like a potential blowout.

They were not as quick on offense. Ball movement became stagnant. It allowed the Warriors to switch more easily on defense and preserve stamina for their offense to climb back.

Both squads traded blows throughout a fourth quarter that saw several lead changes down the stretch.

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It came down to the Sixers being unable to entirely prevent the ship from sinking. Turnovers and discombobulation led to the Warriors escaping with a 120-117 win.

The first halves in both games had the Sixers looking like an offensive juggernaut with plentiful talent that would keep them from falling without Embiid. As mentioned before, they looked like the prime Spurs.

All of the first half organization was unable to be replicated in the second halves.

Both games saw identical events.

The Sixers were able to survive their disorderly second half against the Thunder but not against the modern dynasty that is the Golden State Warriors.

It became apparent that Embiid’s presence is just as valuable as what everyone thought pre-injury.

He is the franchise player and the focal point.

When the Thunder and Warriors both seized momentum and got themselves back into the games, Embiid was not there to stop the bleeding. He was not there to make a key defensive stop and halt the flurry that both teams threw towards the Sixers.

Going forward, the Sixers should continue with the same first-half energy they demonstrated against more-than-worthy Western Conference foes. They should keep their metaphorical foot on the gas pedal.

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The Sixers have two games this week against the Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls. They hope to have Embiid return before they head to Houston for a Friday night matchup against the Rockets.