What we learned from the Sixers’ 115-106 win over the Knicks on Thursday night. . .
1) The forseeable future is going to be a slog.
And maybe that is what you would have expected at the beginning of the season if you’d been told that the Sixers’ starting lineup would include Glenn Robinson III and Shake Milton with no Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid. At the same time, they also started three players who are making close to $70 million combined and who entered the season on the first-unit of a team that considered itself to have the potential to win 60 games. Yet with two minutes left, they held a lead of just five points against a Knicks team with a laughable collection of talent that rivals the Sixers’ Process Years. And this was with New York shooting 12-for-22 from the foul line and the Sixers shooting 13-for-29 from three-point range.
2) For the Sixers to have any chance at holding ground in the standings, Tobias Harris is going to need to play at a level commensurate with his salary. That is, elite.
He was pretty close to that against the Knicks, scoring 34 points on 14-of-21 shooting while serving as the Sixers’ primary scoring option. The big question is whether he can do it consistently enough to make up for the absences of Simmons and Embiid. Harris was coming off an abysmal performance against the Cavaliers in which he scored just 11 points in an ugly 108-94 loss, albeit while battling a knee injury. Against the Knicks, he hit three of his six three-point attempts, including a pull-up from the top of the arc that gave the Sixers a 110-102 lead with 1:52 remaining. There’s an argument to be made that Harris is actually a better as a first or second option than he is as the player the Sixers most often need him to be when Embiid and Simmons are healthy, i.e. a deadly knock-down shooter who does scoring in catch-and-shoot or pump-and-go situations. We’ll get a chance to see.
3) It would be helpful if Al Horford’s three-point stroke surfaced for good.
Heading into Wednesday’s loss to the Cavs, Horford was shooting just 31.9 percent on 4.4 three-point attempts per game. The only way the Sixers’ offense was ever going to work the way the front office and coaching staff hoped that it would was if Horford could scale up the three-point shooting ability he showed as a take-it-if-you-give-it big man in Boston. That has not ended up being the case during the vast majority of the time that Horford has spent at power forward, but he sank 2-of-5 against the Cavs and was 4-for-4 on Thursday night against the Knicks. That latter mark was the reason the Sixers entered crunchtime with a 10-point lead rather than facing the prospect of another embarrassing defeat.
4) Josh Richardson isn’t bringing much to the table right now.
Granted, he’s being asked to do assume more primary ballhandling duties with Simmons on the shelf. But what we saw out of him against the Knicks is what we’ve seen throughout most of the season: a player who is neither the ballhandler/bucket-getter nor the knock-down shooter that the Sixers need. He had a pull-up three at the third quarter buzzer that was disallowed upon further review, but beyond that was 0-for-4 from behind the arc, scoring a total of 11 points.