Doc Rivers was asked before Thursday’s game if anything surprised him about his 76ers.
“Not yet,” the coach said. “I guess our resiliency.”
He said last month’s six-game road trip could have been a disaster.
“For a lot of teams, I think it would have been,” Rivers said. “We had four starters out at one point on a West Coast trip. Not the greatest timing. We won two of the games, I think, out there and kind of hung in games.”
The Sixers did fight hard and post victories against the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings. But one of their worst performances during the trip was a 35-point setback at the Utah Jazz on Nov. 16. In that game, the Sixers were without starters Joel Embiid (COVID-19) and Danny Green (left hamstring tightness) and reserve swingman Matisse Thybulle (COVID-19).
The now-healthy Sixers got a chance to avenge that loss Thursday night. This time, the Jazz prevailed, 118-96, at the Wells Fargo Center. Philly display toughness and the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. However, the outcome showed that the Sixers, despite playing hard, aren’t an elite team at this time.
“I mentioned it after the game in Charlotte, we have a lot of work to do offensively and defensively obviously,” Embiid said. “We sink in, we don’t shoot enough threes… At times, we are going to have to make a lot of them and take a lot of them. But as far as moving the ball, I thought tonight the ball moved pretty well, you know. But we just gotta let it fly from three and not worry about anything else.”
The Sixers rank 26th in the 30-team league in three-point attempts per game at 32.4. They’re 23rd in made three-pointers at 11.4 and 12th in three-pointer % at 35.4.
The Jazz dominated just about every aspect of the game. But the Sixers didn’t help themselves by struggling to make three-pointers and an inability to grab rebounds.
The Sixers made just 6 of 33 (18.2%) compared to Utah making 15 of 40. Meanwhile, the Jazz had a 52-34 rebounding advantage. Sixteen of Utah’s rebounds came on the offensive end. That enabled them to outscore the Sixers, 18-7, in second-chance points.
Things were so bad that Rivers’ biggest takeaway was “get out healthy.”
“I thought we had great looks, couldn’t make a shot,” he said. “You saw in the first half ... every loose ball, any ball it took energy to get to, they got to. You could see how the game was going.”
Rivers thought about not playing Embiid in the second half due not seeing the energy. But the game was close at the half (61-54 Utah), so that he kept him in the game.
The setback dropped the Sixers (14-12) to seventh in the Eastern Conference standings and snapped their three-game winning streak. Those three victories came against the Atlanta Hawks (Friday) and twice against the undermanned Charlotte Hornets (Monday and Wednesday). No offense to those two teams, but Utah is a different caliber of opponent.
At 18-7, the Jazz have the league’s third best record. This victory also extended their current winning streak to six games. It was their 10th victory in 12 games.
Donovan Mitchell had a game-high 22 points and added six assists. Rudy Gobert finished with 17 points, a game-high 21 rebounds, and two blocks. Embiid had 19 points for the Sixers while playing with abdominal pain on the right side. He exited the game for good with 5 minutes, 4 seconds left after picking up a technical foul. He thought he was fouled.
“I definitely did,” Embiid said of being fouled. “But I’m not going to complain. It is what it is. But there never is any consistency.
“I always know that going into games, especially if I went to the free-throw line a lot the previous game, I always know that the next game [is going to be different], because they are watching. They are paying attention to it. I always know that next game they are not going to call it.”
Embiid made both of his foul shot attempts on this night after going 15 -for-19 from the line in Wednesday’s 110-106 victory in Charlotte.
Embiid, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Tyrese Maxey all had solid games against the Jazz in the lopsided loss. A lot of that has to do with the Sixers sharing the ball and finding open teammates.
As he’s accustomed to, Embiid played with pain. The four-time All-Star was evaluated late in the third quarter, but returned to play. He started feeling the pain in the first quarter.
“Then I thought it was a cramp,” Embiid said. “As the game went on, I started not breathing right. So I needed to check it out, but like I said, I think I will be fine.”
He doesn’t know what caused the pain.
Despite it, he still managed to lead the Sixers in scoring while posting a team-high nine rebounds and a game-high three steals. Meanwhile, Curry added 18 points. Harris was efficient, scoring 17 points while making 6 of 11 shots and all four of his foul shots.
Maxey emerged from his shooting slump, finishing with 11 points while making 5 of 10 shots. The second-year point guard had shot 29-for-92 (31.5%) in his previous seven games.
The Sixers had a scare after Maxey scored a driving layup over Hassan Whiteside with 6:14 left in the half. The point guard landed hard on the court, smacking his head. He stayed down during the ensuing possession before the referees stopped the game after the Sixers regained possession at the 6:03 mark.
At that point, players from both teams, Sixers trainer Kevin Johnson, and assistant coach Sam Cassell came to his aid. After remaining down for around another minute, Maxey walked off the court under his own power. He was briefly checked out in the locker room before re-entering the game 2:44 before intermission.
“The floor’s hard,” Rivers said. “It really is. It’s always been hard. We’re always gonna land on it. At first, I thought he was OK, and then I was a little worried about him. I was worried that he hit his head on the floor. I don’t have the luxury of replay. I still really haven’t seen the fall.”
Jazz raining threes
The Sixers knew they would have their hands full against a Jazz team that has been raining three-pointers as of late.
Utah made 25 of 54 three-pointers in Wednesday’s 136-104 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz hit a combined 111 three-pointers in their five games heading into Thursday’s matchup.
So it wasn’t surprising that Utah shot well from three against the Sixers. The Jazz are starting to resemble the sharpshooting team they were a season ago.
“I think the whole thing for us is to continue to improve as the season goes on,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “When the ball wasn’t going in early in the year, I think it’s easy to think if those go in, we’re fine. We’re probably better. But we don’t want to have to rely on whether the ball goes in.”