It wasn’t always pretty, but a stellar offensive performance and late game heroics from Shake Milton saved a Sixers win over the Spurs.
Defensively, the team was better than they were vs Indiana despite the Spurs still managing a strong shooting night (50% from the floor, 46% from three). Part of it was that they just made contested shots all night—Derozan dropped 30, and Rudy Gay chipped in 24 off the bench—but there were also moments where the Sixers seemingly rolled out the red carpet for Spurs to get to the basket (more on that later).
Just like the loss against the Pacers, this is only one game, so it’s important not to read too much into anything—but here are four major takeaways I have from the Sixers second matchup of the NBA restart.
1. Shake Milton atones for a nightmare 0-point performance vs Indiana with 16 points on 6/9 shooting vs the Spurs—including the go-ahead three with six seconds left.
Sixers fans can breathe a massive sigh of relief that Milton’s nightmare performance on Saturday night didn’t snowball into something more. After scoring zero points and having a spat with the teams franchise player it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the second year player “check out” mentally for a few games, as he did for three quarters against Indiana, but tonight proves that his memory is short and this locker room is strong.
We’ll let his stat line speak for his overall performance—16 points, 5 boards, 3 dimes on 9 shots in 22 minutes is as good as anyone could’ve asked for—but for Brett to trust him at the end of the fourth quarter and for him to deliver with a massive 25-footer to win the game is something you couldn’t have scripted for tonight. I think we all entered this game looking for Shake to bounce back with a respectable performance, and he obviously did that and more.
2. Tobias Harris continues to be aggressive on offense
The only real positive takeaway from the Pacers game was Tobias’ performance on offense. The Sixers offense has longed for him to become more of an alpha, and so far through these two games he’s been exactly that.
Tonight he was good for 25 points on 10-17 shooting (3-5 from three), with 6 boards, 4 dimes, and a steal and block to boot. Through two games he totals 55 points on 46 shots, and 6/13 from deep. Not only is it important for the Sixers to see Tobias confidently hunting his shots, but it’s also important that he connects from deep at a decent clip to space the floor as much as possible for Ben and Joel.
Of course it’s only been two games, but between these two performances and the confidence we saw through three scrimmages I think it’s fair to conclude that Tobias knows what role he needs to take for this offense to reach the next level.
3. More questionable 4th quarter rotations from Brett Brown
Embiid left at the 8:24 mark and Horford left at the 7:06 mark—both left while the team held a 9-point lead. For the next minute and a half, Brett used a lineup with neither center on the floor and San Antonio proceeded to score 11 points, cutting the lead to two (Embiid re-entered at the 5:30 mark).
I just have no explanation for this. If Brett isn’t planning to use Horford at the end of the game then why not let him continue at center? I understand he had played 14 of 17 minutes in the second half up until that point, but is 90 more seconds of Al on the floor going to depreciate our chances to win in the same way that no-center clearly did? I doubt it.
I was fine justifying Brett’s decisions two nights ago, but there’s truly no defense for going small and completely opening up the lane and inviting the Spurs to attack the rim when you’re holding a 9-point lead. It’s just not something that‘s done. It goes without saying that Brett is incredibly lucky his team pulled out this win—sparing him from another 48 hours with his mistakes under a microscope.
4. The bench was excellent—however, expect continued inconsistency from this group.
Horford, Korkmaz, Thybulle, Burks, Neto combined for 37 points on 12/23 shooting (6/12 from three). That’ll get it done on most nights.
There’s always a tendency to overreact after a loss like the one we suffered against the Pacers, but the reality is a bounce back night was probably always in the cards. For the most part, this is how it goes—one night the bench look like the best in the league, one night they look like a bunch of g-leaguers. Sometimes this is less about a team being volatile, and more just the nature of an NBA bench.
For me, Thybulle and Horford are the two current locks for the playoff rotation; Korkmaz needs more shooting nights like this one to ink his minutes, and it looks like a ninth spot will come down to GRIII (when he’s healthy), Alec Burks, and apparently Raul Neto. It’s definitely not a perfectly assembled bench, but tonight is proof that it can be good enough.