The Philadelphia 76ers fell at the hands of the Washington Wizards by a score of 121-111 in their most recent matchup. This was the second consecutive game against the Wizards as well as the second-straight matchup in which Joel Embiid missed due to illness. It was a closer game than the score would indicate as the Sixers were within four points with under three minutes to play.
Tyrese Maxey led the team in scouring by pouring in 32 points including shooting 5-9 on three-point attempts. James Harden also was productive finishing with 24 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds. The Sixers shot especially well from beyond the three-point arc connecting on 19 of their 36 three-point attempts (52.8%). While this traditionally leads to a victory for a team, the Sixers’ lack of production from the center position ultimately sunk them in the matchup.
Backup Center Struggles
This matchup was lost in the paint on the boards for the Sixers. The Wizards outscored the Sixers in the paint 68-38 and outrebounded Philadelphia by 11 boards. Kristaps Porzingis, who stands 7’3″, served as the Wizards’ primary big man in the matchup. Porzingins ended with 30 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The Sixers primarily rotated P.J. Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, Tobias Harris, and Georges Niang on the big man. Size proved to be a major factor with none of these players coming within six inches of Porzingis.
While the small-ball lineup has shown success in small doses so far this season, this was a matchup in which it did not hold up. Washington also rotated in Daniel Gafford and Rui Hachimura who each towered over the Sixers’ backup big-man options. Having the option to play small ball is great, but it is not impactful in every matchup. The Sixers would have greatly benefitted from having a bigger option to play minutes at center… which they have on the bench.
Where Was Paul Reed?
The missing big-man option was Paul Reed. Rivers has shown an unwillingness to play the former second-round pick throughout his three seasons in the NBA. Tucker picked up his third foul halfway through the second quarter, forcing Rivers to give Reed a chance. Reed played the final 5:49 of the first half and brought a necessary burst of energy, effort, and rebounding.
During his first possession on the court, Reed soured for an offensive board and tipped it out to Harden who knocked down a three-pointer. He also secured a fast-break dunk in his second offensive possession by beating the Wizards down the court. In total, he ended with two points, two rebounds, and an assist. It was not the numbers, but the energy he brought that raised the Sixers’ level. Reed and Matisse Thybulle were the only members of the Sixers to finish the game with a positive plus/minus rating.
Following the matchup, Rivers was asked about his decision not to go back to Reed in the second half. Per Zach Ciavolella of Philly Sports Network, Rivers stated “I thought Paul was okay. I thought offensively… same struggle with Matisse… in a lot of ways they start playing off the ball, and that’s something that he’s gonna get better at. I thought he gave us energy though; blocked a couple shots. But again, offensively, I thought we struggled to score on the other end because of the same thing so, you know, him and Trez… you know, it’s funny when Trez plays well, I don’t hear the question.”
For what it’s worth, Montrezl Harrell played 12 minutes in the matchup and ended with zero points, one rebound, zero blocks, two fouls, and shot 0-1 from the field.
While the center issues will be minimized when Embiid returns from illness, the usage of the backup options will continue to be a lingering concern. Daryl Morey has done an excellent job adding different styles of big men for when Embiid is not on the court. But it is up to Rivers to properly utilize them. The Sixers needed rebounding and defense help in the matchup against the Wizards and did not receive it from the small-ball lineup.