December 9, 2023

Jan 14, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers point guard Tyrese Maxey (0) shoots a jump shot over Miami Heat power forward Kelly Olynyk (9) defending during the first half at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat had absolutely no chance as the Philadelphia 76ers cruised right by the Miami Heat on Thursday night by a score of 125-108.

The Sixers welcomed Tobias Harris, Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle back into the rotation after they’d missed the past three games because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. And they played a bug part in the game! Milton had 31 points and seven assists in 27 minutes and Harris posted 18 points. Though Thybulle shot just 2 for 7, he picked up four steals and a block.

Miami had only eight players again, with eight still sidelined for health and safety reasons. 

Here are three takeaways from the Thursday night’s win:

Shake Milton, Tobias Harris, and Matisse Thybulle made their return in a big way

If you weren’t aware, there were no apparent signs that Harris, Milton, and Thybulle had been unable to practice with the team until Thursday’s morning shootaround. 

Harris came up short on his first jumper but made his next three field goals. Milton conducted the offense well as the second-unit lead ball handler, playing at a controlled pace in the pick-and-roll and putting Miami’s defense in tough positions. He drew fouls, found rollers, and picked out shooters. At the end of the first quarter, Milton made an off-balance quasi-heave under tight pressure, not the first time this season he’s converted a difficult shot as a quarter wound down. 

Milton totaled 43 points on 14-for-22 shooting in the two games prior to this recent absence. It obviously seems not much changed during his absence.

Thybulle fouled Tyler Herro on a three-point attempt early in his first quarter, though he was sharp from that point on defensively. His block on Heat Precious Achiuwa after falling well behind the play on a Herro-Achiuwa pick-and-roll was a nice display of Thybulle’s high-level closing speed, instincts and knack for disruption. 

Even though these three players hadn’t played in three games. They played Thursday night like they’ve never missed a game.

The Maxey-Simmons combination 

Just to let you know, Ben Simmons’ first bucket came with 4:46 remaining in the second quarter, while Tyrese Maxey’s first came with 1:28 left in the first half after a 6-for-6 start.

Simmons, who scored his 30th career triple-double with 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, started alongside Maxey (15 points on 6-for-10 shooting) for a second consecutive game and continued to have his greatest impact offensively by driving and kicking out to shooters.

Miami sagged off of him when Simmons brought the ball up the floor and double teamed him on several occasions when he received it in the elbow or short corner regions, an approach that gave Simmons some trouble. Simmons had more success after halftime, pushing the pace effectively and slamming home a put-back dunk in the third quarter. 

For the long term, the Sixers will need dependable solutions when opponents give Simmons an exaggerated amount of space, and perhaps one will sometimes be using him in the high post and searching for high-low actions with Joel Embiid. That concept has looked promising at times, and Simmons obviously has experience from last season as a facilitator at the elbow. The Sixers’ best bet when Simmons handles the ball still seems to avoid using half-court offense entirely and letting him be creative and explosive in transition. 

Simmons missed a wide-open corner three in the middle of the second period, his third long-range attempt this season. It was a good look and clearly the right shot to take. 

There will be heightened critical observation on Simmons, his willingness to shoot and whether he improves offensively after multiple reports that the Sixers included him in James Harden trade discussions and then did not land the eight-time All-Star. Harden is now officially a member of the Brooklyn Nets and could make his Brooklyn debut Saturday. The Sixers are scheduled to play the Nets at Wells Fargo Center on Feb. 6. 

Rivers was asked before the game whether he was relieved that the Harden drama has been resolved.

“I don’t know if I’m relieved,” he said. “I’ll just keep saying it, and I said it before, I like our team. I like the day after the trade and all that stuff that we are the same team. I think that’s the best way to answer that.”

Maxey’s offensive variety stood out Thursday as he scored on fast-break dunks, pull-up mid-range jumpers, and catch-and-shoot threes. He’s the Sixer who’s boosted his stock on the court the most since Seth Curry tested positive for COVID-19 a week ago. 

MVP Embiid was not needed for success

Joel Embiid didn’t play how he did during Tuesday’s 45-point effort, and the Sixers didn’t need anything similar. Given that Miami was still missing Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Goran Dragic, it wouldn’t be accurate to call the Sixers’ blowing out the Heat without a world-class Embiid performance incredibly encouraging. Against a badly shorthanded opponent, the Sixers took care of business.

That said, it’s nice for the Sixers that Embiid only had to play 24 minutes after going 39 Tuesday, especially with a road back-to-back looming Saturday and Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Embiid has played 35 or more minutes in five games this season and 27 or fewer in four. When there have been opportunities for in-game load management, Rivers has been happy to take them. 

The 9-4 Sixers next play the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night in Memphis.

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