By Connor Thomas
The Sixers entered Wednesday night’s matchup against the Houston Rockets in desperate need of a stop to their 3 game losing streak. They were presented with a golden opportunity to do so against the injury plagued Rockets, who took the floor without Victor Oladipo, Christian Wood, and PJ Tucker. Even when healthy, the Rockets have had issues since moving on from superstar guard James Harden earlier this year. It was assumed by many (including myself) that the Sixers would be at or close to full strength depending on the status of Shake Milton, but the 6th man sat again with an ankle injury and he was joined by Ben Simmons. Simmons was ruled out pregame with a non-COVID related illness, and was unable to follow up his 42 point performance he had on Monday in Utah. As a result, the Sixers starting lineup featured Matisse Thybulle as Simmons’ replacement, with Thybulle making his first start of the season. Despite Simmons’ absence, the Sixers handled Houston easily in the first half on both sides of the court, holding the Rockets to 45 first half points and putting up a nice 69 of their own. This was done with Joel Embiid only scoring 8 points in the first half, thanks to double digit points from Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, and Danny Green at the break. Philly’s defensive lockdown in the first 2 quarters was due in large part to Doc Rivers employing an uber-effective 2-3 zone. With Thybulle roaming around the top of the key deflecting just about every pass thrown and the rest of the Sixers contesting shots heavily on the perimeter, Doc Rivers’ strategy was able to hold Rockets star John Wall to a mere 2 points at the half.
A 24 point lead would be safe most nights for the top seed in the East, but the 2nd half was not nearly as comfortable as the 1st. Houston came out of the break hot with a 36 point 3rd quarter as Wall finally got it going on the offensive end of the floor. The Sixers, on the other hand, cooled off offensively, with 4 players going scoreless in the frame. With a 17 point lead heading into the 4th some fans might have felt comfortable enough to head to bed early. It seemed like some of the Sixers might have felt a little too comfortable as well. Philly did not make a basket from the floor until the 7:11 mark in the 4th as the Rockets slowly clawed back into the game. From about the 6 minute mark til 1:28, Houston went on a 17-6 run to pull within 4 points of the struggling Sixers. The Rockets kept it close til the final buzzer, but the Sixers two top scorers in Embiid and Harris closed out the game with the team’s final 8 points to keep Wall and company at bay. Much to the chagrin of some sports bettors, the Sixers were unable to cover, but for a team that had lost their last 3, the Sixers were happy to escape with a 5 point win. By the time the final whistle blew, Embiid had once again cleared the 30 point threshold, and Seth Curry had a strong 25 point night while running the offense for the ill Simmons.
The Sixers improved to 19-10 with the win while the Rockets fell to 11-17. Philly will be back in action tomorrow night as they welcome the Chicago Bulls.