76ers Continue to roll along with success: Gutterman’s Sixers Analysis

The Sixers look to stay hot and keep up their great play as of late, with just four weeks remaining in the regular season.

Sports Editor Jonah Gutterman writes a bi-weekly column exclusively on the Philadelphia 76ers.

Jonah Gutterman/ Canva

Sports Editor Jonah Gutterman writes a bi-weekly column exclusively on the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’s now nearing late April, and it has certainly been made clear that the Philadelphia 76ers are a legitimately elite ball-club in the NBA. They are a real and serious contender, who pose a threat to mostly every team in the league.

 

As of April 19, 2021, the 76ers sit as the kings of the Eastern Conference with the No. 1 seed, with a record of (39-17). The team has won 7 of its last 9 games, which include victories over fellow Eastern Conference contenders the Celtics and Nets. Philadelphia is 15-5 post All-Star break, and has won 17 of its last 22 games dating back to March 1st. 

 

The Sixers’ MVP Candidate, center Joel Embiid, returned to the lineup on April 3rd against the Minnesota Timberwolves after he was sidelined for three weeks with a left knee bone bruise. Thus far, in Embiid’s 7 games back following his injury, he has literally picked up right where he left off pre-injury, averaging 30.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game in just over 30 minutes per contest.

 

Forward Tobias Harris has also continued his great play, as he’s averaged nearly 21 points per game since returning from the All-Star break. Not to mention, Harris has been scoring the ball on a nightly basis on nearly 50/40/90 shooting splits. (50% from the field overall, 40% on 3-pointers, and 90% from the free-throw line). Harris led the 76ers to a solid 7-3 record in Embiid’s 10-game absence, and stepped up his performance in a big way when the Sixers needed it most, with Ben Simmons struggling. 

 

In an 8-game span during Embiid’s absence, the 28-year-old Harris averaged 24 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, playing nearly 36 minutes per night. Right behind Embiid, Harris is statistically the Sixers’ second-most efficient player this season, boasting a player efficiency rating (PER) of 20.7. (For perspective, PER league average is 15. Any player who has a PER around or above 18 is typically considered to be All-Star caliber when playing 30+ minutes per game.)

 

Preceding Monday Apr. 19th’s clash with the Golden State Warriors, the Sixers have a record of 7-2 in the month of April thus far. They have won 4 straight, last week defeating the Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, and to end the week, the L.A. Clippers. The win over the Clippers on April 16th was an absolute thriller.

 

The Sixers were actually without three key players in that game, including starters Tobias Harris and Seth Curry, who were both out due to minor injuries. The third player absent from the lineup was reserve center Dwight Howard. The Clippers also were short-handed for this game, with their superstar forward Kawhi Leonard sitting out due to injury, along with big man Serge Ibaka and guard Pat Beverley also out.

 

The Sixers got off to their best start to a game since October of 2013. In this game, Philly POUNCED on the Clippers and jumped out to a 20 to 3 lead in just the first 4 minutes of the 1st quarter. It was an absolutely incredible start. Of course, a team cannot and never actually manages to keep up that unreal pace of scoring for a whole half or even a whole quarter, so eventually the Sixers’ shooting cooled down significantly, but they still led 31-20 at the end of the 1st period. 

 

The 2nd quarter was pretty much even, with the Sixers winning it by just a single point, to claim a 12-point lead at halftime.

 

But in the 3rd quarter, Los Angeles heated up from the field, specifically fueled by the scoring of 7x All-Star forward Paul George. George scored 15 points on 6-9 shooting in the 3rd quarter alone, including 3 made threes. Led by him, the Clippers won the 3rd period, 30-22, and the Philadelphia lead was down to just 4 points headed into the final quarter.

 

In the 4th, the Clippers remained very hot from 3-point land, led by the likes of Reggie Jackson and Patrick Patterson. Those two players actually combined for 17 of the Clippers’ 26 points in this 4th quarter. The last several minutes of the game were extremely tight and intense, and the Clippers even willed themselves to within just 1 point of the Sixer-lead on a Reggie Jackson-made three with 20.5 seconds remaining in the game. However, as it became Philadelphia’s possession with the shot clock gone for the rest of the game, L.A. was forced to intentionally foul at that point, and the Sixers- specifically Danny Green- did what he needed to do by knocking down both free throws to put Philly up by 3. 

 

It all came down to the final possession of the game, where the Clippers were now down by a single made three-pointer, and needed to make a three in order to send the game into overtime. L.A. had 8.5 seconds to get off a look and make their three, and all that the Sixers had to do was simply defend as well as possible and force a missed shot. For this final chance, the Clippers tried to draw up a play for their clear go-to man, Paul George. But, the Sixer-defense was pretty aware that the shot was drawn up for George, so they locked in on him and made it impossible for him to even touch the ball to get up a shot. Thus, the Clippers were forced to have someone else take the shot, and that was Marcus Morris Sr. Morris shot up a very contested and difficult three with Danny Green draped all over him, and he missed. Three Clipper players and three Sixers then crashed the board in a wild scramble for the rebound, which ultimately landed in the hands of Joel Embiid, and the Sixers ran out the clock for the stunning win.

 

A look ahead:

 

With a win on Monday night (Apr. 19) the 76ers can pick up their 40th win of the season and improve their winning percentage to over .700. After this game against the Warriors, which in itself could certainly be a challenging game if Stephen Curry (questionable to play due to ankle injury) actually suits up, the Sixers have a very tough week ahead in terms of their schedule coming up. 

 

On Wednesday Apr. 21, Philly will host the red-hot Phoenix Suns, a 40-win team at the top of the West led by All-Stars Devin Booker and Chris Paul. The Sixers lost the first matchup against the Suns back on February 13th in Phoenix, where they had almost no success in guarding and containing Devin Booker, who torched the Sixers for 36 points in the game. For the Sixers, Joel Embiid did score 35 in that game, but it proved not to be enough to overcome Booker’s bunches of points on the other side. Thus, the 76ers know that containing Devin Booker’s dynamite offense is going to be an essential aspect of trying to get a win in this Wednesday’s game.

 

Then, the following night, (Apr. 22) the Sixers will be in Milwaukee to take on the Eastern Conference’s current 3rd seeded Bucks. This game is certainly going to be viewed as a type of “statement” matchup for both the Sixers and the Bucks, with both teams being top Eastern Conference squads who want to make it clear and prove that they’re better than the opposition. Philly lost the first matchup of this season against the Bucks in a scrappy and exciting overtime battle back on March 17th. However, that game was played without Joel Embiid, as he was sidelined with his knee injury at that time. 

 

So for this game, the Sixers’ three centerpiece players- Embiid, Simmons, and Harris- are all going to have to be at their best against a tough Bucks team with 2x reigning-MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Alongside Giannis is veteran point guard Jrue Holiday and sharpshooting swingman Khris Middleton, who both make very strong impacts on the offensive and defensive ends.

 

After this game, the teams will get the next day off before actually meeting up again on Saturday afternoon (Apr. 24) for another game. This will seemingly be yet another tough matchup for both teams, and again, the Sixers will have to be on their A-game if they want to beat the Bucks, especially on the road. It will certainly be a challenge, but it will also be a great test for the Sixers to see where they’re at in terms of how they’re playing against other elite teams.