MIAMI — The 76ers will be without their two primary wing players for Saturday’s key showdown against the Heat, as Matisse Thybulle is listed as out with shoulder soreness after taking a hard fall in the second half of Friday’s 111-99 home win against Boston.
Additionally, All-Star center Joel Embiid was in the starting lineup after being listed on Saturday afternoon as questionable to play with elbow soreness.
Thybulle landed on his back after the Celtics’ Dennis Schröder pushed him while in the air to throw down a fastbreak dunk, an act that resulted in a flagrant foul. Thybulle stayed in the game — and took four shots — after the spill, but exited late in the third quarter and did not return. Coach Doc Rivers said before Saturday’s game that Thybulle is not on this two-game road trip that concludes Monday at Washington and received an MRI on Saturday, but that he had not yet been notified of any results.
“It’s obviously more serious than we want it to be,” Rivers said, “but I have no idea how long that means [he will be out].”
Before the injury, Thybulle was the catalyst in limiting Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to 14-of-35 shooting from the floor, including 4-of-20 in the first half while the Sixers built a 20-point advantage. Thybulle, an NBA second-team All-Defensive performer last season, compiled five steals and two blocks in 28 minutes. He is averaging 5.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 28.8% from three-point range this season.
Danny Green missed his second consecutive game with hip pain that was aggravated during Wednesday’s home loss to Charlotte. Without Thybulle and Green, the task of guarding Miami star and former Sixer Jimmy Butler could largely fall to Charlie Brown, the Northeast Philly native and St. Joseph’s product who recently had his 10-day hardship contract converted to a two-way deal.
Sixers backup point guard Shake Milton also remains out with a back contusion that Rivers called “pretty significant” before Friday’s game.
Embiid: ‘We got everything we need’ as season hits midway point
Outsiders will remain focused on the Sixers — and, specifically, Ben Simmons’ situation — as the Feb. 10 trade deadline approaches.
But after Friday’s dominant win over the Celtics, which pushed the Sixers to 24-17 at the regular-season’s halfway point, Embiid said, “I feel great” about the state of the team.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet,” Embiid said. “We still got a long way to go. We’re missing guys here and there that could really help us. There’s really no urgency to change anything. I think we’ve got everything we need. We’re gonna keep on going, and I’m happy.”
The Sixers entered Saturday’s matchup against the Heat in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, though Embiid noted his team is 22-9 in games that he has played. He missed nine games in November with COVID-19, plus two other games for rest or minor injuries.
Embiid said he appreciates how the Sixers “just allow me to do what I do best, offensively and defensively,” while putting together another MVP-caliber season. He is averaging 27 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game, and had an eight-game streak of scoring 30 or more points snapped Friday.
Like Rivers’ comments earlier Friday, Embiid said the Sixers are still striving for consistency during a season with regular roster disruptions due to health and safety protocols or injuries.
“We all got to be our best,” Embiid said. “And when we are at our best, I think we can beat anybody. We’ve seen it a couple times this year. I just think I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing, and then obviously we need consistency from everybody — not just Tobias [Harris] or Tyrese [Maxey] or Seth [Curry] or Danny.
“[We need] guys coming off the bench, getting Shake back. We need consistency and everybody coming in every single night and just doing their job and chipping in offensively and defensively and just playing together, and we’ll be fine.”
Maxey more confident in three-point shot
Rivers called Tyrese Maxey the morning after he went 5-of-8 from three-point range during the Sixers’ Dec. 30 win at Brooklyn. The coach encouraged his point guard by sharing that he was nothing like Maxey as a player.
Despite being a career 32.8% three-point shooter, “When I got an open three, I took it anyway,” Rivers said.
“You practice all the time and you never miss, and then you get an open three and you won’t take it,” Rivers told Maxey. “I don’t get that. … I would have died to be able to shoot like you. And if I could, I would have shot it every time.”
Maxey has taken that advice, with fantastic results in a small sample size. He has made 12 of his last 19 three-point attempts over three games, including going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc during Friday’s win over the Celtics. It’s the latest development for the second-year point guard, who is trying to blend running the Sixers’ offense as a playmaker with using his explosiveness to get to the basket to, now, shooting from outside when open.
“Everybody’s been on me about pump-faking and running into floaters, shooting contested twos instead of trusting my work,” Maxey said.
And the motivation is not only coming from Maxey’s coach. After that Brooklyn game, Embiid sat at a table with Maxey for their postgame news conference with this message: “You see what happens when you frickin’ shoot threes?!”