Danny Green said the 76ers were not in panic mode.
Yes, they were coming off a humbling lopsided loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But he said they showed both good and bad signs this season.
“We’re going to learn from those bad habits and change them,” Green said Tuesday morning. “I think we’re where we’re supposed to be right now. It’s still early in the game, behind some teams and ahead of some teams.
“But we’ll figure it out.”
Everything wasn’t figured out for Tuesday night’s game at the Wells Fargo Center, but Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris still led the Sixers to a 100-93 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Despite the win, the Sixers could have been in trouble had Embiid remained sidelined for a second consecutive game.
The Sixers looked lost and were dominated in all phases in Sunday’s 24-point loss to the Cavaliers as Embiid sat with back tightness. On Tuesday, his play kept them competitive against the Raptors as the Sixers couldn’t make shots or defend. That’s a bad combination.
The Sixers shot 32-for-84, including 8-of-31 on three-pointers. Defensively, they surrendered a lot of wide-open three-pointers. Taking advantage, the Raptors made 17-of-45 threes.
But Embiid had 29 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. A chunk of his points came from the foul line, where he made 14-of-16 attempts. He went 11-for-11 at the line in the first half, becoming the first Sixer to do it since Allen Iverson went 12-for-12 in April 2006.
“He was terrific, dominant,” Doc Rivers said. “It’s funny ... obviously, he had 29 points. I thought he made the three key plays down the stretch by passes.”
One of those plays came when he got the ball in the post and swung it to Seth Curry, who buried a three-pointer to put the Sixers up 96-91 with 1 minute, 5 seconds left.
The Sixers, however, got a scare with 8:02 left in the third quarter.
That’s when the big man turned the ball over in the high post, stayed on the floor for a while and appeared to grab the back of his right leg. He got up on his own power and headed to the locker room. After being checked out, he went into the game with 4:01 left in the quarter. At one point in the fourth quarter, Embiid was stretched out near the Sixers bench before re-entering the game.
Asked how scared he was seeing his franchise player on the floor, Rivers said he never looks in those situations. The coach added nor does he ask what’s wrong.
“Every time I asked, I got bad news,” Rivers said. “You can tell, I didn’t even go down there. I rarely go down there, because every time I go down there to ask how are you the news is bad. So I didn’t want any bad news, let me put it that way.”
Embiid downplayed the incident, wanting to focus more on what he called “a great win.”
“I’m fine,” he said. “Nothing to worry about.”
He was specifically asked if it was a hamstring or quad injury.
“Nah, it’s fine,” Embiid said. “Everything is fine.”
Tobias Harris was Robin to Embiid’s Batman on this night. The power forward turned in his third straight solid game, finishing with 26, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. His pair of foul shots with 25.6 seconds left gave the Sixers a 98-91 lead.
After Ben Simmons scored the Sixers first basket, Harris scored their next nine points. Harris made just 1 of 5 shots in the second quarter. However, he had 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting after intermission. His three assists, two steals and one of his blocks also came in the second half.
“I just thought in the second half he got very aggressive on both ends, ” Rivers said. “My favorite play of the night had nothing to do with Tobias other than we were bringing the ball down. Tobias ran and grabbed the ball from Ben, and told us to throw the ball to the post. Like he demanded that we posted.”
Rivers loved that fact that Harris had it going, but looked at the matchup and made a point to go the post.
“That leadership and that toughness he showed was terrific tonight,” the coach said.
The Raptors (0-3) were looked upon as a barometer for where the Sixers (3-1) stood. Even though Toronto remains winless, the squad is expected to finish as one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams. The Raptors have two All-Stars in Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova product Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam. They also have a budding star in Fred VanVleet.
Toronto, which has relocated in Tampa this season, did lose Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in free agency. However, they have a stable of solid contributions to go play alongside Lowry, Siakam and VanVleet.
This was the first of three meetings against the Raptors during the first half of the season for the Sixers.
“It’s funny, and just being honest, the first I did [look] at the schedule and saw Toronto that early, I didn’t love to see that,” Rivers said before the game. “They’ve been together for 100 years. They can call out plays from five years ago, and probably run it. We can’t do that. So [it is] probably not the team you want to see early, because they have been continuity.
“But it is what it is.”
Rivers told his guys, “So what? Let’s win.”
The coach realizes Embiid is a luxury in an era when dominant big men are rare.
“The one thing bigs have always been, even in these days of ‘no bigs,’ they are run stoppers,” Rivers said. “They are just amazing, that you can come out of a timeout and say just throw it down there. What we are trying to get Joel to see, and I think he is getting it, just because we throw to him doesn’t mean he will be the scorer. But the team will benefit because he is so darn good.”
Embiid scores and gets fouled when teams don’t trap him. When they trap him, he creates action for teammates.
“And what we are showing the whole team is that is good either way,” Rivers said, “because the objective is to score.”
Simmons finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists. However, he made just 3 of 11 shots. Simmons also scored just three points after intermission.
Simmons must be more balanced in attacking and facilitating for the Sixers to be successful. That’s something he has struggled with. Though he’s a three-time All-Star who made third-team All-NBA last season, people have questioned if he’s actually a point guard. Former coach Brett Brown even moved him to power forward during the NBA restart in July.
“I don’t call Ben a point. I just call him a really good basketball player,” Rivers said. “Having said that, he does have the ball in his hand more. ... We have to be patient with that.
“On the nights he does it well, you obviously see it. On the nights he doesn’t do it well, you probably obviously see it. And that is really my job to give him the balance.”
The coach feels he has to do a better job calling sets that Simmons is comfortable with early. Rivers wants him to stay engaged and think about every play.
Matisse Thybulle was the second player off the bench Tuesday night. Rivers is giving the second-year guard more playing time with Furkan Korkamz sidelined with strained left groin. He had one rebound in 12 minutes after playing a combined 15 minutes in the first three games.
Lowry finished with 24 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds to pace the Raptors. The North Philly native graded out with a plus-12.