The Sixers were impressive in the beginning, not so much at the end, but did enough Wednesday night to hold off the Houston Rockets, 118-113. Houston trailed by as many as 29 points early in the third quarter, but kept fighting.
Still, the Sixers improved to 19-10, while Houston (11-17) lost its seventh in a row. Here are three reasons for the win:
The Sixers played more zone defense than they have all season, and even with Ben Simmons out because of illness, they were still highly effective. The main reason was Matisse Thybulle, who excels in any defense, but really shines in a zone, which he played almost exclusively at the University of Washington.
Thybulle uses his 7-foot wingspan to get his hands on a lot of balls. He leads the NBA in deflections per 36 minutes (6.0). Here is a Thybulle steal that led to an easy Sixers basket.
Notice his great anticipation of a lazy pass from Danuel House Jr. Thybulle ended with four steals.
Getting to the foul line
The Sixers took great advantage of their height advantage, especially with 6-foot-10 forward-center Christian Wood sidelined (right ankle sprain) for the Rockets.
With Houston having to foul late in the game, the Sixers enjoyed a sizable edge at the free throw line. They made twice as many free throws (28-for-32) as Houston (14-for-18).
As usual, Embiid led the way, going 10-for-12 from the foul line. Embiid and Tobias Harris constantly took advantage of mismatches against smaller players. Harris had eight free throw attempts.
Yet it wasn’t just the big men getting to the line. Seth Curry was 6-for-6, a season high in each category for him.
Sixers in transition
The Sixers built a 26-point halftime lead, and the transition game was a big part of it. For the game, the Sixers outscored the Rockets, 25-14, in fast-break points.
The advantage in the first half was 21-3. Houston did a much better job in the second half, but the damage was done in the first two quarters.
Here is a combination that we haven’t seen much: Isaiah Joe to Thybulle on the fast break.
This play was an example of the offense getting started by the defense, with Dwight Howard picking up the loose ball and feeding Joe, who delivered to Thybulle for the finisher.