Location: Wells Fargo Center. Opening Night. The Philadelphia 76ers haven’t lost a game here in over a year, and that streak continued tonight, after a hard-fought, comeback win vs the Washington Wizards, 113-107.
“Overall, I love the win,” Head Coach Doc Rivers stated during his post game Zoom call.
While the game wasn’t always pretty, the 76ers got the win, and played well in crunch time – something you couldn’t say last year.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s win:
1. Joel Embiid is really really good.
Entering the 4th quarter, the 76ers were down 83-73, Embiid had 14 points and had only taken 9 shots. He looked disengaged, the team looked flat, and it seemed as though the same old Sixers had returned.
Doc Rivers called for an Embiid post up on the block, foul. Then he called it again, foul. Then he called it again, jumper. Then he called it again, jumper. Then he called it again, and again, and again. Every post up led to a basket, a foul, or a great look from Embiid or another Sixers player.
“If they can’t stop it, keep running it,” Rivers replied when asked about his gameplan down the stretch.
The Wizards couldn’t guard him 1 on 1 and the Sixers made them pay if the doubled teamed him. As the lead dwindled, Embiid’s dominance was noticeable, even if he didn’t touch the ball.
Running the pick and roll with Shake Milton, Seth Curry, and Ben Simmons all resulted in wide open shots due to the impact that was Joel Embiid. The Wizards gravitated towards Embiid popping after the screen, leaving shots for any player coming off of them.
Embiid finished with 29 points (15 in the 4th quarter) and 14 rebounds. He said he wanted to have an MVP season, and today was a great start for the 26 year old, perennial all-star.
2. Shake Milton will be a legitimate 6th Man of the Year candidate.
Shake Milton was the feel good story for the Sixers last season. About a week after former Head Coach, Brett Brown, stated that Milton wasn’t apart of the rotation, Milton was thrusted into the lineup due to mounting injuries.
He took his new role and ran with it all the way to a spot in the Sixers bubble starting lineup. After big games against the Clippers (career high 39 points) and Spurs (game winner), Milton went into the offseason ready to work.
Upon entering training camp with an added ~10 pounds and a newfound confidence, he was ready for the role that his new head coach had for him – 6th man and lead scorer off the bench.
After showing out in the preseason, Milton continued that hot streak on opening night, and ended the game with 19 points on 6-11 shooting, along with a few clutch buckets and free throws.
Rivers even had the confidence to end the game with Milton over starting wing, Danny Green. This kid is the real deal.
3. How did Tyrese Maxey fall to the 21st pick? (Thank you again, Mike Muscala)
Rookie guard, Tyrese Maxey, has quickly become a fan favorite. When a player that most scouts claimed wouldn’t fall out of the lottery was available at 21, Daryl Morey, Elton Brand, and the city of Philadelphia were all shocked.
We knew that these teams let him slip through the cracks and we would greatly benefit from it. Despite his low minute count, Maxey has shown exactly why we were all excited for him to fall. Seen as a combo guard, Maxey has shown a great ability to run the offense and in his first official NBA game, he looked like a seasoned veteran.
We all knew he could score, but it was his playmaking that wowed us this time. He finished with 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in 11 minutes, in his debut, off the bench.
Rivers mentioned he would ease him in, especially due to his delayed training camp, but it’s time to let the kid play. We have a future star in Philadelphia.
4. This isn’t your usual Sixers team.
When you think of the Sixers teams of the last few years, you think of high turnovers, poor shooting, blown leads, and crunch time screwups. But under Doc Rivers, you can already see a huge change.
In the preseason game vs the Indiana Pacers, the 76ers came out of the half on fire. Adjustments were made and the team went from a big deficit to a huge lead.
In their first official game, you would’ve thought the old 76ers were back.
After taking a 13 point lead midway through the 2nd quarter (50-37 with 5:16 left), the Sixers not only blew the lead, but scored only 23 points the next quarter and a half.
The Sixers started the 3rd quarter shooting 0-9 until a Ben Simmons layup with 6:06 left. The Wizards ended the 3rd up 83-73 and Sixers Twitter began having a meltdown.
But similar to the game vs Indiana, adjustments were made and the Sixers took control of the game.
After some back and forth between the 76ers and the Wizards all-star duo of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, it came down to execution, something Sixer fans aren’t used to seeing.
For the first time since the 2018-19 season, the Sixers didn’t commit one turnover in the 4th quarter. Execution was almost flawless and it was a sight to see for Philly fans.
With 30 seconds left and a 2 point lead, Doc Rivers called a timeout, ran a play involving a Curry/Embiid pick and roll, defenders gravitated towards Embiid, leading to a pass for a wide open Ben Simmons dunk, to all but seal the win.
It was that easy. Westbrook was defending Simmons and should’ve been in help to prevent the dunk, but after the quarter Joel Embiid had, he had no choice but to creep up to wait for the pass to the big man. Even without touching the ball, Embiid changed that entire possession.
You can expect a different Sixers team under Doc Rivers, and yes, this is only one game, but it bodes well for the future.
5. There will be some growing pains
This game wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, so naturally, I couldn’t do the same for this article.
As mentioned above, the Sixers had one of the worst spells possible, in those 17 minutes, between the middle of the 2nd quarter and end of the 3rd. The starters looked disinterested until Embiid decided to take over in the 4th quarter, they couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean for periods at a time, and the turnovers started to pile on heavily in the 3rd quarter.
A pretty flawless 4th quarter shouldn’t change the fact that the 76ers didn’t look that great today, but it’s understandable. Their head coach was hired 2 months ago, their training camp was 2 weeks long, they only had 2 preseason games, and they only have 7 returners from last season (2 of which barely played).
There will be games that will make you want to pull your hair out, but this will be a fun team to watch grow and hopefully take that next step.
The 76ers are off for the next two days and will return on Saturday to take on the New York Knicks, at Madison Square Garden, on NBATV. #HereTheyCome