Poor Perimeter Play Dooms Sixers In 104-72 Loss To Hawks

Despite 14 points in 15 minutes from Joel Embiid, the Sixers struggles from the perimeter led to a blowout loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Joel Embiid (14 points) works against Paul Millsap (17 points) in the first quarter of the Sixers 104-72 loss to the Hawks | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid (14 points) works against Paul Millsap (17 points) in the first quarter of the Sixers 104-72 loss to the Hawks | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Joel “The Process” Embiid dazzled for the Sixers once again, finishing with 14 points in 15 minutes of action in Tuesday’s afternoon’s contest against the Atlanta Hawks.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Not even close.

Done in by poor perimeter shooting, a lack of shot creation from their guards, and defensive breakdowns galore, the Sixers could not compete with Atlanta’s balanced and crisp offensive attack, falling to the Hawks 104-72.

During the first half of play the Sixers outscored the Hawks by 6 points in the 7 minutes Embiid was on the court, but were outscored by 20 in the 17 minutes he was on the bench. Those kind of plus-minus numbers are very frequently misleading in single game instances, but today was representative of a team that couldn’t do much of anything on either end of the court outside of momentary flashes of brilliance by Joel Embiid.

After hitting his first three-point shot of the game, which gave the Sixers an 8-0 lead early, Dario Saric struggled to convert for the rest of the game, finishing just 2-9 from the field for his 5 points. His struggles extended to the rest of the Sixers perimeter players, with Robert Covington (0-5 from the field), Gerald Henderson (0-5), and Hollis Thompson (1-4) all struggling to convert from the perimeter.

Those poor shooting performances were compounded by inexplicable turnovers, playing outside of their comfort zone, and defensive breakdowns. Overall, the Sixers finished with 20 turnovers compared with just 12 for the Hawks, a team who has consistently routed the Sixers with the stunning ball movement and crisp defensive rotations that have been a staple of Mike Budenholzer‘s teams.

Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 17 points (6-14 shooting), 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in 27 minutes. Kyle Korver (15 points, 6-8 shooting), Dennis Schroder (11 points, 11 assists), Mike Muscala (14 points), and Thabo Sefolosha (11 points) joined Millsap in double figures scoring.

After a relatively close first quarter the Hawks blew the game open with a 10-0 run late in the second quarter, and the Sixers never got the game within 10 the rest of the way.

In all, the team, outside of Embiid’s momentary flashes of brilliance, looked eerily similar to last year’s Sixers squads.

Still, Embiid was fantastic. He opened up the game with a top of the key three-pointer that Dwight Howard practically begged him to shoot. He followed that up leaking out for a transition bucket, then sprinkled in a dazzling pump fake to acrobatic driving layup which Brett Brown described after the game “making a move like a guard.” He went 3-4 from the free-throw line as the fans serenaded him with “Trust the Process” once again.

“Everybody has (their) flaws, and I thought I took advantage of that,” Embiid said after the game about the success he had on Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap. “I got the shots that I wanted.”

Perhaps most importantly, Embiid consistently controlled the paint defensively, with impact much greater than his 2 blocks would indicate.

“Joel, for the minutes he played, really he helps us,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We look forward to when we have more minutes available for him.”

Don’t we all.

In all, the Sixers perimeter play once again looked too overmatched, a problem exacerbated by Ben Simmons‘ absence and Embiid’s limited availability. But Embiid was fantastic, and that matters far more than any October results, and makes this season inherently different than the ones that preceded it.

Trust the Process.

Medical update

After the game, Brown spoke about the minutes restrictions placed on Embiid and Okafor.

“It’s a very rigid roadmap. And that’s okay. Nobody’s crying about it. It’s just, it’s a challenge, you know?” an exasperated Brown said after the game. “But that’s where we’re at. That’s the reality of the situation.

“I think for the moment Joel (Embiid) will be set on that 20 (minute restriction) for a while,” Brown said. “Jahlil’s (Okafor) situation is more fluid, where we judge him day by day, and the increase in minutes (today) I think is a reflection that he is moving in the direction that we all want, and I expect those minutes to go up.”

Quick Thoughts

  • Sergio Rodriguez put in another solid game, at least offensively, finishing with 14 points on 7-13 shooting and 5 assists, although he did finish with 4 turnovers as well. Before the game head coach Brett Brown said Rodriguez had established himself as the likely starting point guard, at least for the time being. “I think that any time I can find some type of continuity and consistency, it sure helps,” Brown said.
  • Robert Covington played a very in-control game in the opener, finishing with 10 points on 3-6 shooting while committing no turnovers. His game was the exact opposite today. He missed every shot he took, open or contested. He turned the ball over seemingly every time he tried to put the ball on the deck. He made some decent plays defending iso’s, but was completely lost trying to stick Korver off the ball.
  • Richaun Holmes came in off the bench for 10 points (5-8 shooting) and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes of play, providing the Sixers with a little bit of a spark for their overmatched bench squad.
  • Nik Stauskas, Jahlil Okafor, Hollis Thompson, and Jerami Grant combined to shoot 7-25 off the bench.
  • Brett Brown played Okafor and Embiid together for about three minutes, the first time they have played together this season. Brown said the while opportunity presented itself in the flow of today’s game, he still feels like it’s not wise to do that too frequently at this stage because of the minutes restrictions they are under. “In our heart of hearts, given the minutes restrictions that we have, it’s still not smart to do that,” Brown said.
  •  Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also made his NBA debut, playing 6 minutes when the game was out of hand.
  • So far Embiid has scored 34 points, collected 9 rebounds, and blocked 4 shots in 38 minutes of action.
  • In related news, Embiid recorded an assist today, his first (recorded) assist in combined preseason + regular season play. (He did appear to have an assist in the Sixers final preseason game against the Miami Heat, but it did not find its way into the box score).

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.