It is safe to say the Sixers gave their mascot, Franklin, a great birthday gift on Sunday, as they dismantled the Washington Wizards, winning 112-93. The Sixers led the game wire-to-wire, just 2 days after defeating the Blazers in a game they led for a total of 1.1 seconds.
The win was Philly’s 5th in a row and 7th since the all-star break. The Sixers are now within 3 games of the east-leading Milwaukee Bucks and are 1.5 games behind the Boston Celtics for 2nd.
Joel Embiid (somehow quietly) finished with a stat line of 34/8/4/1/4 in just 31 minutes of work. James Harden was solid, finishing with 18 points and 14 assists. This was Harden’s 31st game this season of 10+ points and 10+ assists, which is tied for 3rd in the NBA, and tied for most in a season in 76ers franchise history with Wilt Chamberlain and Maurice Cheeks.
No players were listed on the injury report before this game, however, Jalen McDaniels was forced to exit for the Sixers in the 2nd quarter with a right hip contusion, and Taj Gibson left the game early for the Wizards with a non-covid illness.
The Embiid and Harden Show
Only 4 pairs of teammates in NBA history have led the league in both points per game and assists per game in a season. Joel and James are threatening to become the 5th, and if the season ended today, they would be. Sunday was just another example of why Embiid and Harden might currently be the best dynamic duo in the league.
Embiid sat the entire 4th quarter for the 2nd time in 3 games and still finished with 34 points, 8 boards, and 4 assists. It is Joel’s 38th game this season of at least 30 points, which is 2nd in the league behind only Luka Dončić (Jokic has 17 such games).
The big man was able to easily carve out space all game and was rewarded with a plethora of open jumpers from around the free throw line (or, as James Harden calls them, layups). At halftime, Joel was already up to 22 points and was making it look easy. It was Embiid’s 30th 20+ point half of the season.
Embiid was also putting in work on the defensive end. Rarely did the Wizards challenge Embiid’s defensive prowess, but when they did he made the most of it, racking up 4 blocks for the 5th time this year. He also had 1 steal, in which he was not even looking at the ball when he deflected it.
James Harden again proved why he is the best teammate Joel Embiid has ever played with. He had 14 assists on Sunday for the 9th time this season. His ability to not only run the offense, but put his teammates in positions to succeed by way of his unreal court awareness, has paid dividends time and again this year, and should greatly benefit the Sixers in the playoffs, where the games are played primarily in the halfcourt. It should come as no surprise that he was game-high +25 in +/- on Sunday.
While playing with 4 bench players, Harden spearheaded an 18-6 run early in the 4th quarter, one that put the game away. The run was capped off by a James Harden crossover (push off, shhh!) three-pointer that put the Sixers up 23. After the shot, Harden dapped up the dancing Tyrese Maxey on the bench. It’s too bad they don’t have any fun.
De-fense *clap clap*
While the Sixers’ defense has struggled at times this season, they still rank 8th in the league in defensive rating (112.4), and games like Sunday’s are why.
From the tip, the Sixers stifled Washington’s offense. They set the tone on the opening possession, forcing Kyle Kuzma into a 37-foot jumper that he air-balled with the shot clock running down.
In total, the Wizards could only manage 19 points the entire 1st quarter, a quarter that saw Tobias Harris and PJ Tucker each come up with a steal and a block apiece.
Tucker played fantastic defense all night. While it may not directly correlate to the stat sheet, given that the 1 block and 1 steal were all he came up with for the game, his presence on defense was huge for the team in this game. He primarily guarded the much taller Kristaps Porzingis, who came into this game averaging 23.2 ppg. Porzingis only scored 9 points on 4/15 (26.7%) shooting from the field, including 0/3 from deep. Tucker did not score in this game, although that has not seemed to matter this season, as the Sixers are 16-4 when Tucker is held scoreless. A true testament to his tremendous defense.
However, it was not just Tucker on Sunday. The Sixers as a team played outstanding defense all night, especially on the perimeter. Washington shot a miserable 6/26 (23.1%) from beyond the arc, and just 40.5% overall. The Sixers’ defense held the Wizards to 19 points in both the 1st and 3rd quarters, and despite scoring 52 points in the paint, Washington could only muster 93 in total.
Even with the Wizards scoring more than half of their points in the paint, the Sixers still combined for 10 blocks on the night for just the 4th time this season. This included a Washington possession in the 3rd quarter, where De’Anthony Melton blocked a Corey Kispert three-point attempt out of bounds, then Joel Embiid blocked a Deni Avdija floater off the out-of-bounds play. The two then teamed up on the ensuing Sixers possession, as Embiid found D-Melt for a deep, 29-foot three-ball.
The Sixers are now 12-1 when holding their opponents to under 100 points.
The Sixers are now off until Wednesday when they will be in Cleveland for the season-series rubber match with the Cavs at 7:30p. This will be the first game in a stretch of 8 of 11 on the road for the team. Out of the all-star break, the Sixers faced the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA. They are now 10 games into it and are 7-3, outscoring their opponents by an average of 11.1 ppg in the wins. This team seems to be getting playoff ready.