GRADES: Sixers ground Pelicans in opening night win

Furkan Korkmaz, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Furkan Korkmaz, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /

Without Ben Simmons as he serves what is tentatively a one-game suspension, the Sixers were able to separate themselves from the New Orleans Pelicans behind a strong second half effort.

Much of the offseason was spent wondering what would happen with the man who never intended to play for the team that offered him a max contract. Basketball has now arrived and with such the focus can, for now, transition to the on-court festivities.

Joel Embiid produced early for Philadelphia kicking off the scoring to open the 2021-22 season. Seven early points and a Seth Curry three-pointer pushed Philadelphia up early 17-9 before Devonte’ Graham, New Orleans newest addition responded with seven points of his own. Georges Niang scored his first basket for Philadelphia to close the quarter and put Philadelphia up 29-25 entering the second.

Niang continued the scoring as back-to-back three pointers put Philadelphia up 12, 39-27. From there, New Orleans stepped on the gas. A barrage of Brandon Ingram, Graham, Jonas Valanciunas contributed to a steady comeback that put New Orleans up two before Tobias Harris evened the score at 53 with a buzzer beating floater.

Entering the half, Embiid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker led their respective teams at 14 points.

Embiid continued his hot play early with eight straight Philadelphia points that were all answered by New Orleans. From there, and after a less than stellar first half, Tyrese Maxey stepped up. Scoring seven of his 20 points in the period, Maxey and company gave Philadelphia an 11-point lead entering the fourth, 81-70.

Ingram dunked to close the lead to 81-75 before Furkan Korkmaz erupted. A 22-4 run was built on Korkmaz scoring 14 points and dishing three assists as Philadelphia’s starters never had to check back into the game. Growing the lead to as much as 27 points, he iced the game and allowed for Charles Bassey, Jaden Springer, and Aaron Henry to close the game behind his 18 points in just the fourth quarter.

Ingram led all scorers with 25 points, but Philadelphia had Harris, Embiid, Maxey, and Korkmaz all score 20-plus as they put New Orleans away on the road 117-97.

Grades from the Sixers’ opening night win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

  • Tyrese Maxey: B+

34 mins | 20 pts | 7 reb | 5 ast | 0 stl | 0 blk | 1 TO | 8-14 FG | 2-3 3PT| 2-2 FT | 2 PF | +23 |

Maxey played a strong second half and looked much more comfortable after a less than stellar first. A team-high +23 while filling the stat sheet on efficient shooting will earn him more starts even as Shake Milton comes back from injury. Maxey wasn’t perfect and tonight was both a reminder of his inexperience but also the talent that makes other’s absences less problematic.

  • Furkan Korkmaz: A

20 mins | 22 pts | 0 reb | 5 ast | 1 stl | 0 blk | 1 TO | 7-11 FG | 4-4 3PT| 4-4 FT | 0 PF | +22 |

Korkmaz had four points and two assists entering the fourth quarter. He finished with 22 and five, respectively. A player who can get hot and push the gas, Korkmaz not only dominated the fourth, but allowed nearly all the started to rest the entire period. A masterclass dominance on the final period.

  • Joel Embiid: A

26 mins | 22 pts | 6 reb | 5 ast | 1 stl | 1 blk | 1 TO | 8-17 FG | 2-3 3PT| 4-6 FT | 3 PF | +4 |

The box score numbers are good. An efficient 22/6/5. Yet, it isn’t his box score that stands out the most. Valanciunas shot 3/19 on the night. Simmons is perhaps the better defended in a vacuum. Yet, the area in front of the rim remains the most precious and Embiid has the potential to be a dark horse for Defensive Player of the Year. Tonight, was an excellent start to a campaign the superstar has at least partially embarked on before.

  • Tobias Harris: A-

28 mins | 20 pts | 12 reb | 2 ast | 1 stl | 0 blk | 0 TO | 8-16 FG | 0-2 3PT| 4-5 FT | 0 PF | +8 |

Harris will man the four-spot for Philadelphia almost exclusively. His size coupled with strong 5-men should allow him to grab weakside rebounds all year. Harris is a tremendous tertiary option who can absolutely serve as “Robin” for now. Tonight, was another example of him doing his role and then some.

  • Andre Drummond: A+

19 mins | 6 pts | 17 reb | 3 ast | 2 stl | 2 blk | 4 TO | 2-4 FG | 0-0 3PT| 2-3 FT | 2 PF | +22 |

Drummond wasn’t the best player on the court tonight, but he wasn’t far off. His play will never be picturesque. In only 19 minutes, he grabbed 17 rebounds. He also only shot when it made sense and highlighted to Philadelphia fans how valuable his underrated quickness is when it comes to defense and getting deflections. Outside of Philadelphia, it feels like this signing has gone underappreciated.

The New Orleans Pelicans will travel on the road as they take on the Chicago Bulls on Friday. As for Philadelphia, they will host their first game of the season at the Wells Fargo Center against the vaunted Brooklyn Nets as they aim to avenge their opening night loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.