The Philadelphia 76ers began the night facing a number of daunting challenges. They were in the fourth game of a brutal six-game stretch against terrific teams, dealing with a number of injuries, trying to bounce back from a tough loss against Golden State and the white-hot Stephen Curry, and staring down the barrel of a Phoenix Suns team that has been an NBA best 16-4 over the last 20 games. Playing against Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and a super confident Suns team without Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry would require another huge effort from Joel Embiid, as well as some mystery players stepping up to fill in the gaps for the Sixers.
Embiid was certainly up to the task. He charged out of the gate like a man possessed and took control of the paint early, scoring with a variety of moves and grabbing every board in his zip code. Phoenix had no answer for Joel, but Chris Paul and Villanova’s own Mikal Bridges were too much for the Sixers without Simmons and Harris. Danny Green played well on both sides of the ball and Furkan Korkmaz and Tyrese Maxey gave them some offense to keep the game close and at the half the score was tied at 54 apiece.
The teams went back and forth again in the third stanza. The Suns began to put on some pressure, jumping ahead by five but the Sixers clawed back behind some terrific defense by Matisse Thybulle and Embiid and pulled within one 77-76 entering the fourth.
In the fourth quarter, the absence of three starters began to show as the Suns began running and hitting 3s. Both teams are among the best in the league on defense, but the Sixers offense began to flounder and the savvy veteran Chris Paul slowly began to pick away at the Sixer weaknesses.
After battling with the second best team in the NBA for 43 minutes, the Sixers suddenly found themselves down nine points with 5:10 left in the game. The Sixers went back to Embiid down the stretch (scoring 14 straight) and made a few runs, but in the end they just could not make up for the missing starters. Devin Booker, after being dominated by Matisse Thybulle all night, scored eight points in the last 90 seconds and that was the difference.
Grades from the Sixers’ shorthanded loss to Chris Paul and the flaming Phoenix Suns.
33 mins | 38 pts | 17 reb | 4 ast | 1 stl | 1 blk | 8 TO | 14-23 FG | 3-5 3PT| 7-9 FT | 2 PF | +0
Monster. Again, there is no stopping him when he brings this kind of energy. Tonight he was just missing a little bit of help without Simmons and Harris, but this was only as close as it was because there is no answer for him in the middle. His 80-footer at the last second only missed by a fraction or this game might have had a different outcome.
21 mins | 12 pts | 2 reb | 1 ast | 0 stl | 0 blk | 2 TO | 3-5 FG | 3-3 3PT| 3-3 FT | 0 PF | -8
Korkmaz started with a lot of energy, shot well, and gave the Sixers offense a boost in the first half but didn’t play well or often in the second half. When he was in there the offense seemed to have a little more zing, but Rivers is trying out different players and lineups as we move towards the playoffs and adapt to the addition of George Hill at backup point guard. Tonight those minutes went to other people but the team will need his shooting in the two game set against the Bucks.
36 mins | 0 pts | 3 reb | 3 ast | 2 stl | 3 blk | 0 TO | 0-4 FG | 0-1 3PT| 0-0 FT |3 PF | +4
This would be an A if he had hit two or three baskets. His defense is stunning but his offense cannot be non-existant. Devin Booker will be seeing Thybulle’s hand in his face for the next two weeks. Historically Booker has been a Sixer-killer, putting up huge numbers against them, but tonight Matisse had other ideas. Booker is a stud and Thybulle made him look thoroughly average until the last minute and a half. He completely clamped down on Booker, not only playing steady, smart, controlled defense but still getting his signature blocks and steals, and just generally creating chaos. Thybulle has been shooting a little better over the last few weeks and that confidence seems to have made him an even scarier defender. If he keeps playing this well the Sixers will have to find him some serious minutes in the playoffs.
31 mins |14 pts |3 reb | 3 ast | 2 stl |1 blk | 1 TO | 5-11 FG | 0-3 3PT| 1-3 FT | 2 PF | +4
When Maxey is playing aggressively, with his foot on the pedal non-stop, he shows you flashes of greatness that have made him a fan favorite. When he plays passive and defers to everyone else he is almost not worth playing. He was aggressive all night tonight and gobbled up all of Shake Milton’s minutes. Doc usually does not play rookies big minutes so he will probably not be a part of the Sixers playoff plans but games like tonight let you know that if the team needs an insurance guy to step in if there is injury or illness, this team believes in Tyrese Maxey.
24 mins | 5 pts | 2 reb | 2 ast | 1 stl | 0 blk | 4 TO | 2-10 FG | 1-4 3PT| 0-0 FT | 1 PF | -17
It’s no secret that Shake has not been playing well lately. Poor shooting, silly turnovers, and bad defense will get you glued to the bench, watching Tyrese Maxey steal your minutes. Tonight he was a team worst -17 in his 24 minutes on the floor. Shake is in real danger of falling out of the Sixers playoff rotation. George Hill looks like a more reliable backup point guard and Furkan Korkmaz has been a more consistent scorer at shooting guard. Seth Curry and Danny Green are reliable shooters and better defenders than Shake at the wings, and Thybulle is going to have to be a big part of their plans if they want to go deep. Milton will need to play great down the stretch if he wants to see any action in the playoffs.
The Sixers will get another chance to get back on track tomorrow night when they begin the first of a very important two game series against the Milwaukee Bucks. They will be hoping to get either Harris, Simmons, or both back for those two games. Embiid is great enough to carry the Sixers over the lesser teams in the league but they will need a full roster to knock off the top tier teams.