Big impact on both ends by Embiid
At first he was ruled out, but then after warmups Joel Embiid said he was good enough to play despite suffering from a sprained right hand. Embiid was solid on offense, although he appeared to wince at times, shaking his hand. He made his greatest impact on defense. In the first half, Embiid had four blocked shots and the Sixers took a 60-49 lead at intermission. Pau Gasol, a future Hall of Famer, wanted no part of going inside on Embiid. Journeyman Joffrey Lauvergne unwisely tried to take Embiid inside a few times. For all his scoring, Embiid’s interior defense can deflate a team and San Antonio was much more willing to take it to the hoop when Embiid was on the bench. Embiid also made LaMarcus Aldridge work extremely hard on offense, although in the fourth quarter, Aldridge came to life with nine points. Embiid finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and the four blocked shots. He was a plus-16, second on the team to Dario Saric (plus-19).
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) January 4, 2018
Simmons needing to stay aggressive
When Ben Simmons is aggressive going to the basket, it does so much to spark the offense. Simmons is so unselfish that often after beating one man off the dribble, instead of taking it all the way to the basket, he will look for an open teammate. In the first quarter the 6-foot-10 Simmons, who was guarded by 6-9 Kyle Anderson, was constantly having his way and was looking to finish more. He was 3 for 6 from the field in the first quarter, driving at will. Teams play back on Simmons, daring him to shoot from the perimeter for good reason. A second quarter air ball on a jumper shows that Simmons still isn’t confident in his jumper. In the third quarter after a pump fake, he had a short baseline jumper, but interestingly, he decided to shoot it with his opposite (right hand). Earlier in the quarter, he finished a drive with his right hand. As Simmons becomes more accomplished in finishing, he will be even more dangerous. As for the jumper, that still remains a work in progress. Simmons ended with 26 points.
Unlikely Spur scorer
The Sixers got a larger than expected dose of 6-10 forward Davis Bertans, the second-year player from Latvia. Bertans showed deep range on his three-pointer, hitting once from 30 feet out. He is not particularly physical and but if left open, he has a sweet stroke from long range. He hit 2 of 4 long range shots and scored 10 points to somewhat keep the Spurs in the game in the first half. Bertans, who entered the game averaging 4.3 points, cooled off in the second half and finished with 13 points. The Sixers weren’t giving him as many open looks as he saw in the first half.
The Sixers continue to be impressive with their unselfish play. In the third quarter, the Sixers scored on a beautiful sequence where the ball never hit the ground. It was Simmons to Robert Covington to Saric, who laid the ball in. In the second quarter, Sario threw a behind the back pass in the lane to Amir Johnson, who laid it up. The Sixers are always looking for that extra pass and in this game were rewarded on several occasions.
Learning a lesson from a veteran opponent
The Sixers learned a great lesson from a veteran Spurs team that has qualified for the playoffs 20 consecutive seasons and has won five NBA titles in that span. San Antonio was truly playing with a depleted lineup after competing in the second game of a back-to-back, after Tuesday’s 100-91 win over at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. Against the Sixers, veterans Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawai Leonard were among the key Spurs getting rest. In addition, Rudy Gay missed his third straight game with right heel bursitis. Danny Green, a favorite of Sixers coach Brett Brown, was also out with a groin injury. Despite trailing by as many as 16 points, the Spurs had a 103-101 lead on a short jumper by Aldridge with 2 minutes and 15 seconds left. The Sixers did win this game, but when they have a tired team, with so many regulars out, they can’t let them up for air. On a positive note, this is a game the Sixers may not have won even a few weeks ago.