The 76ers began their 2021-22 season by taking care of business with a 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center, pulling away in the fourth quarter to start 1-0.
The Sixers were missing Ben Simmons (suspension), Shake Milton (right ankle sprain), and Grant Riller (left knee injury recovery). Zion Williamson (right foot fracture) was sidelined for the Pelicans.
Joel Embiid had 22 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Furkan Korkmaz posted 22 points and five assists. Tyrese Maxey scored 20 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Tobias Harris also had 20 points, 12 rebounds, and a steal.
The Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram had a team-high 25 points.
Here are three takeaways on their victory over New Orleans:
Embiid got it going early, Harris and Curry solid
Embiid scored 10 points within the game’s first five minutes and led the Sixers to a 19-11 advantage. The four-time All-Star also racked up four first-quarter assists and drew two early fouls on Jonas Valanciunas.
He made his first three-point attempt of the season, then made another in standard fashion shortly after. That long-range success made his pump fake a bit more persuasive, opening the lane for a pristine drive and layup.
Embiid was far less than effective for his next stint, missing a handful of the mid-range jumpers that were automatic buckets last season. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong with Embiid’s decision-making, although making contact and earning free throws is a reliable path to efficient scoring for him. He locked back in to begin the second half, nailing a few mid-range tries with ease.
Harris (20 points, 12 rebounds) was solid and steady as a secondary offensive option, while Seth Curry’s jumper was solid. He contributed 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting and rarely seems like he’s going to miss.
On defense, Embiid showed off his versatility by attacking several ball screens as a change of pace. The Sixers don’t want to overdo Embiid on defense, but it makes sense that they’d play with greater aggression and variety in Simmons’ absence.
Playing without Simmons could perhaps be an excellent opportunity for Embiid to demonstrate his defensive talent. Jonas Valanciunas was stopped cold by Embiid — and also simply short of luck around the rim — on a 3-for-19 shooting night.
Maxey looked good as a starter
Maxey opened the game in Simmons’ place. Though the starting point guard by name, he didn’t spend much time as a point guard early. The Sixers ran a lot of offense in transition, through Embiid and Harris isolations and post-ups, and through Curry cut actions.
Maxey had a few defensive errors against Nickeil Alexander-Walker, including on a second-quarter play when he was beaten for an and-one layup.
Late in close games, one imagines opponents will put pressure on Curry and Maxey to get stops.
Overall, there was a lot to like from Maxey in the season opener. Though a dynamic scorer, he understands how to complement star talent and pick his spots.
Korkmaz goes off late to secure win, new look bench looks good
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers played an all-bench group of Korkmaz, Isaiah Joe, Matisse Thybulle, Georges Niang, and Andre Drummond for a long stint late in the first quarter.
With Korkmaz handling the ball, that unit had an iffy start offensively as they struggled with timing on cuts and passes. The Sixers found a nice rhythm, though, playing unselfishly and moving the ball around well. They scored 14 bench points — including six on Niang threes — before New Orleans had any. Drummond lived up to his name as he grabbed 17 of the Sixers’ 20 bench rebounds.
The Sixers finished with a 45-17 bench edge, thanks in large part to Korkmaz. He knocked down four triples in the fourth, the kind of ultra-confident, game-shifting spurt within his wheelhouse. Korkmaz finished with 22 points, 18 of those coming in the final frame.
Thybulle (two points, four steals, one block) played the most of the Sixers’ bench players by filling in for Danny Green when he picked up his third foul with 4:32 to go in the second quarter. Green and Thybulle were the Sixers’ two main defenders on Ingram, who got it going after an 0-for-4 start.
Joe did not carry over his preseason brilliance, going scoreless in 13 minutes and committing a bad turnover looking to make a routine wing feed to Korkmaz. He exited the game in the fourth quarter, heading to the locker room after landing awkwardly on a driving layup, but returned after being diagnosed with a chin laceration.
Joe competed hard on defense as usual, taking a charge on New Orleans center Jaxson Hayes, and clearly deserves a real run in the rotation.