Well, I don’t think it’s ever been more apparent how badly the Philadelphia 76ers need Jimmy Butler then it was over the previous four games. Last Friday night in Detroit, without Joel Embiid due to rest, the Sixers were flat. They were shredded by the Pistons in the first half without their best defensive player. They trailed by 15 in the second half until Butler decided to flat out take over. It wasn’t just offensively, either. He and Ben Simmons committed on the defensive end and it changed the outcome of the game. The Sixers really need that because they lack perimeter defense big time.
Now, let’s talk about the offensive side of the ball. Butler scored a team-high 38 points, 26 of them coming in the second half. It’s really special when you have a guy who can make a ton of contested shots and will his team to victory. Mike Muscala was also a pleasant surprise as he dropped 18 points and was 4/9 from deep. He had three huge fourth quarter blocks, too.
Three days later, the Sixers and Pistons would be back at it. This time, it would be in Philadelphia as the Sixers looked to win the season series. They would lose Jimmy Butler early in the game because of a strained groin, but were fortunate enough to be playing a depleted Pistons team on the second night of a back to back. It also helped that they decided to rest Blake Griffin, who has absolutely torched the Sixers this season, averaging 39.6 points per contest.
While Joel Embiid was knocking the rust off, Ben Simmons was going to work early. He attacked Jon Leuer and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Simmons had 11 of his 18 points in the first quarter.
The Sixers bench would pick up the slack in this one as they outscored the Pistons bench 54-24 en route to a 116-102 win. A big reason for that was Furkan Korkmaz who may have had the best game of his career.
They declined this guy’s option…
On Wednesday, the Sixers faced their kryptonite, the Brooklyn Nets, at Wells Fargo Center. Furkan Korkmaz got the start for the injured Jimmy Butler and scored 18 points for the second straight outing. Joel Embiid looked more like himself as he tallied 23 points and 13 rebounds in the first half. The big man finished with 33 points and 17 rebounds, however. For one reason or another, the Sixers just got away from him. These two strong performances weren’t enough as the Sixers dropped just their second game of the year at home.
What we really need to talk about is the Sixers flawed roster. Basketball is all about matchups and that’s the reason the Sixers struggle against an inferior team like Brooklyn. As I mentioned earlier, the Sixers lack perimeter defense. Scoring guards will eat against guys like JJ Redick, Landry Shamet, TJ McConnell and Furkan Korkmaz. McConnell is relentless defensively and will get in opponent’s faces, but he has limitations and they showed against Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored a career-high 39 points. That beat his previous career-high of 31 points, which he also had against the Sixers. Dinwiddie was awarded a three-year contract extension not even 24 hours after this game. Ugh.
Joel Embiid said it perfectly after the game; “We make every guard look like a freaking Hall of Famer.”
Now, yes, Jimmy Butler can hide some of his teammate’s defensive weaknesses when he’s on the floor, but he’s not right now. And you know what, that’s a good thing. Elton Brand was going to make a move for bench piece or two, anyway, but now it seems even more obvious.
On Friday night, we saw more of the same. The Sixers looked like they were on their way to another win over the Indiana Pacers. Embiid was nothing short of amazing. He had 28 points and 14 rebounds in the first half and finished with 40 and 21 overall. Dominance.
The Pacers had other ideas, though. They took advantage of the Sixers eight man rotation in the second half. We can sit here and say Joel Embiid needs to conserve his energy for the second half, but this wouldn’t be an issue if the Sixers had some two-way bench players to carry some of the load. Yes, Embiid fell asleep on defense multiple times late in the game, but this wouldn’t happen if he didn’t have to do all the dirty work in the first half.
The #sixers were flawed in the first half, but Embiid's monster performance carried them. As Embiid has slowed here in the 2nd half, the glaring lack of production from Chandler/Muscala/Korkmaz et al has been too much to overcome.
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 15, 2018
Hopefully, help is on the way as Jimmy Butler will likely play this afternoon in Cleveland.