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Joel Embiid a level above Karl-Anthony Towns, and other observations from Sixers win over Timberwolves

Embiid showed why there is no comparison between he and Towns. That, and other things we learned from a big Sixers win.

Sixers Joel Embiid reacts after learning he is ejected from the game after a third quarter altercation with the Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns.
Sixers Joel Embiid reacts after learning he is ejected from the game after a third quarter altercation with the Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

What we learned from the Sixers’ 117-95 win over the previously undefeated Timberwolves:

1. Joel Embiid is on another level from Karl-Anthony Towns. And you have to think that it was a deep-seeded understanding of this fact that led to the scuffle that resulted in the ejections of both big men. For much of the night leading up to the fateful moment in the third quarter, Embiid had been punishing Towns with the full force of his oversized body, throwing his shoulder into his leaner opponent so many times that you could almost here the blood vessels bursting over top his sternum. Embiid finished the night with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting compared with Towns’ 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. But numbers don’t really do the comparison justice. To fully appreciate the disparity between the two, you have to see them live, court-level. Embiid’s size and strength are the sort of thing that impact the totality of the court on both ends of it. Towns is a nice player, but Embiid is a game-changer, and you saw it throughout the Sixers’ win. Statistically, this wasn’t Embiid’s most dominant effort, but by the time he walked off the court, he was a +7, Towns was a -13, and the Timberwolves clearly exposed as a team that lacked the size and depth to keep pace with a team like the Sixers.

During the first half of the third quarter, there were a couple of possessions where Embiid backed Towns deep into the paint from 10+ feet out - the first time, he finished strong. The second time, he faded away. Not long after, the two got their arms tangled in transition, and things escalated from there.

Neither player was blameless, and while Towns clearly threw the first (only?) punch, Embiid was just as much an aggressor, and one would assume that he did not do himself any favors with the league office when he reacted to his ejection by smiling and shadowboxing and pumping his fist to the crowd as he walked off the court. Suspensions would seem likely. That’s the bad news in the short term. In the long term, though, the Sixers clearly get the best of this battle.

2. The Sixers can match up with any kind of offense you throw at them. Witness their performance against Towns. The 24-year-old entered the game in the midst of a blistering start to the season. In the T-Wolves’ first three games, he averaged 32 points, 13 rebounds and five assists while attempting a ridiculous 9.7 three-point attempts per game and converting 51.7 percent of them. To put that in perspective, Towns averaged 4.6 attempts per game from downtown in 2018-19 while connecting on 40 percent of them. His torrid three-game start to the season saw him shoot 7-of-11 against the Nets, 4-of-7 against the Hornets, and 4-of-11 against the Heat.

With this no doubt in mind, the Sixers opened the game with Al Horford guarding Towns, with Embiid floating around the paint, a luxury they have given the presence of Horford and the length they have at the other three spots on the court. Two of the three three-pointers that Towns hit came when one of the two big men was on the bench. Beyond that, he did not do much.

3. The matchup decisions that coaches make against this team are going to be fun to watch all season. For instance, Minnesota opened up the game with former Sixer Robert Covington checking Horford. Throughout the night, the Sixers were consistently able to exploit the various mismatches their size generated. This was especially true once both teams got to their benches. Immediately following the first round of substitutions by both teams, the Sixers went on a 14-5 run. Tobias Harris seems to be finding his groove, particularly once the Sixers get into their bench. Harris finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds and had a lot of success around the basket. With 8:43 left in the second quarter Harris banked home a bucket and picked up a foul after getting Josh Okogie to leave his feet on the low block. A couple of possessions later, he found himself on the low block against the dramatically undersized Shabazz Napier and easily converted.

4. Furkan Korkmaz is still a thing. The third-year sharpshooter logged at least 12 minutes for the third time in four games and finished one short of his career high with 17 points. The fact that Korkmaz is even on the roster is somewhat of a surprise after a season in which he appeared in just 14 of their final 40 regular season games and was reportedly interested in a trade out of town after the Sixers turned down his option. But he’s emerged as a regular part of the rotation. Against Minnesota, he he drilled a three-pointer from just above the right break to give the Sixers the Sixers a 46-31 lead in the second quarter, their largest of the game, prompting a Timberwolves timeout. A couple of minutes later, he was fouled by Andrew Wiggins while attempting a three from the left corner. In the third quarter, he had a dunk that gave the Sixers a 99-80 lead and prompted another T-Wolves timeout.