By Connor Thomas
If you stayed up for last night’s 10pm tip off and the first game of the Sixers’ 4 game West Coast trip, unfortunately you did not get a game that let you go to bed early. Outside of a strong 1st quarter by Philly, Sacramento gave the Sixers just about everything they could handle with their pace and space style of offense. The first quarter was easy, breezy, beautiful (redacted due to corporate sponsor conflict) for the Sixers as they cruised to a 42 point opening frame and a 10 point lead. In fact, without De’Aaron Fox’s 15 points in the quarter for the Kings, it might have been an early night for a lot of Sixers fans. The 2nd quarter was another story entirely. Sacramento, who play some of the fastest paced basketball in the entire NBA, must have realized they could exploit the Sixers by pushing the ball every time up the floor. Believe it or not, this strategy is even more effective when you shoot 66.7% from 3 point range in the quarter. Combined with a lack of impact by Joel Embiid, who had only 2 points in the 2nd quarter and seemed to have trouble with keeping up with the pace of the Kings offense, the Sixers found themselves at a 5 point deficit at the half. The combination of Fox, Buddy Hield, and Tyrese Haliburton combined for 11 first half 3s for Sacramento, but at a gaudy shooting percentage of 55% from deep, the hope for Doc Rivers’ side was that the Kings would come back down to earth in the 2nd half.
The 3rd quarter was sloppy, with the teams scoring a combined 41 points in the quarter as Fox and company cooled off and Embiid and company, well, stayed cool. The Sixers were able to make up 1 point worth of the deficit heading into the 4th with a 4 point difference to make up, but they would need to play some stellar defense if they hoped to slow down the Kings for another consecutive quarter. That defense came courtesy of, surprise, Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, the two defensive stalwarts of the Sixers. Last night was another example of an incredible trend of this year’s team – when the game is on the line, they become the best defensive basketball team on the planet. There is another gear that this team possesses defensively that they seemingly keep in their back pocket until the waning minutes of the game and then, before you even realize they’re doing it, the opposition hasn’t scored in 5 minutes of game time. This game was another prime example of that ability, as the Kings only scored 20 points in the final quarter on 29.6% shooting, and 4 points in the last 3 minutes of the game. In addition to the stellar defensive effort, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, who each had relatively down nights, stepped up with 10 and 12 points respectively in the closing frame to help propel the Sixers to the 8 point win. By no means was it an easy win, but for the first game of a long road trip, the Sixers did what they needed to to pull out the victory. The next 3 games still hold a lot of trials for a team that is trying to prove they are championship contenders, but at least for the first game of the trip, they looked like that type of team.
The Sixers improved to 18-7 on the year to stay at 1st in the Eastern Conference, while the Kings fell to .500 on the season. Philadelphia’s next action will be a trip up the coast to Portland for a Thursday night matchup with Damien Lillard and the Trailblazers.