This isn’t quite the start the Philadelphia 76ers were hoping for. Though in fairness, the sports gods have been raining manna from heaven to those in the City of Brotherly Love lately — perhaps the sports god can only be in one place at a time and simply chose San Diego over Boston.
Of particular concern Tuesday was Joel Embiid’s sluggishness out of the gate. For two years now, the former Kansas Jayhawk has finished just short of the MVP behind Nikola Jokic. Suffice it to say, voters haven’t exactly been inundated with reasons to select Embiid over the Nuggets star.
Someone who knows a thing or two about the MVP race is Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal. The 1999 MVP and three-time Finals MVP criticized Embiid’s performance on TNT after the game.
“I would have liked to see Joel Embiid come in with a mentality. Because you know, you look at stats, you look at team success, but MVP is a mentality. You have to have the mentality: ‘I’m the best big man in the league,’ forget that. ‘I’m the best player in the league.’ And you have to come out from day one. There are three ways to manipulate the mind, what you read, what you hear, and what you see. If the media come out and see you dominant, saying ‘I’m the MVP,’ then they’ll give you that nod coming down the stretch.”
The rest of the inside crew echoed their fears about the Sixers after a lackluster effort.
Barkley: ‘My Sixers In Trouble’
Charles Barkley, O’Neal’s TNT co-host, chimed in with his own thoughts on the Sixers’ poor performance against the Boston Celtics, the reigning Eastern Conference champs.
“My Sixers in trouble. They played the same way they did [last season]. I hated the way my Sixers played tonight. This is all I saw tonight. The dribble is back alive y’all,” Barkley said.
“They just give the ball to Joel or James and let them go one on one. They have no body movement, which drives me crazy.”
“They were awful defensively. But the main thing is they play way too slow. If you go back and look at that game, they never get easy baskets.”
The Sixers did rely significantly on their stars against Boston. Only De’Antony Melton finished with more than 20 minutes of action off the bench for Philadelphia. On the flip side, Boston had three such players finish with at least 20 minutes off the bench. The team continued forcing the ball to Embiid and Harden, hoping each would bail them out of trouble. That might work most nights, but against the Celtics? Not so fast. Boston finished with the league’s best defense down the season, on the backs of Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and stud Robert Williams. It’s worth noting Williams didn’t play at all against Philadelphia, as he’s recovering from offseason knee surgery.
The TNT crew also noted that Philadelphia’s defense was awful. And it’s not hard to see why: two of Philadelphia’s best defenders didn’t see a minute of action.
Paul Reed and Matisse Thybulle Not Given Any Time Tuesday
Much was made this summer about the apparent ascendancy of Paul Reed. After Tuesday, it might be time to pump the brakes on that feel-good story. Reed was a DNP, along with Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, and Jaden Springer. It would appear, at least this early, that Doc Rivers plans to go with Harrell as the team’s primary backup center.
But Matisse Thybulle didn’t do much better on Tuesday, managing some 23 seconds of playing time. It’s a troubling sign after he failed to agree to an extension with the Sixers ahead of Monday’s deadline, meaning he’s slated for restricted free agency next summer. Reed and Thybulle are perhaps Philadelphia’s most versatile defenders, with both capable of guarding multiple positions.
Are we in for a few months of Matisse-watch? Rivers clearly has his top rotations settled, at least right now, with Melton taking over the lion’s share of defensive duties on the wing. Sixers GM Daryl Morey could look for creative ways to offload Thybulle in exchange for a more win-now piece ahead of the trade deadline.