Zach LaVine makes 11 three-pointers, Sixers fall to Chicago

3 observations after LaVine nails 11 three-pointers, Sixers lose to Bulls originally appeared on NBC SportsPhiladelphia

Zach LaVine was by far the brightest star Friday night at Wells Fargo Center

With Joel Embiid (left foot soreness) out and James Harden having a tough time scoring most of the evening, LaVine scored a brilliant 41 points and made 11 of his 13 three-pointers in the Bulls’ 126-112 victory over the Sixers.

Nikola Vucevic posted a triple-double with 19 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists.

Harden had 17 points on 4-for-17 shooting, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

Tobias Harris had 22 points and 11 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey scored a team-high 26 points, while Montrezl Harrell recorded 17 off the bench.

Embiid missed his second straight game. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame that Embiid was doing better and he didn’t know whether the five-time All-Star would play Sunday when the Sixers face the Pistons in Detroit.

Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Javonte Green and Tony Bradley were sidelined for the Bulls.

The Sixers dropped to 6-4 without Embiid this season and 23-15 overall. Here are observations on their loss:

Sixers start fast, but Harden struggles

The Sixers used the same starters as for Wednesday’s overtime win over the Pacers, opening with three guards and PJ Tucker at the five.

They pushed the pace well early with that small-ball lineup. The game’s first hoop was a Maxey transition three off of a Harden hit-ahead pass, and De’Anthony Melton’s second triple extended the Sixers’ lead to 18-9.

The team’s half-court offense was much less successful. Harden played the whole first quarter and missed all seven of his field-goal attempts. He fared better as a passer (five assists, one turnover in the first), but Harden had serious trouble finding space to drive or generating anything as a scorer besides free throws.

Vucevic capitalized on his size advantage several times, but the Sixers made a good collective effort on the boards early and were eager to run as soon as they got stops. That’s a solid formula for their three-guard lineups, and it certainly helps when Maxey and Melton are firing threes without hesitation and knocking them down.

Maxey, bench build short-lived lead

The backup center duel between Harrell and Andre Drummond was an entertaining one.

Drummond, who was dealt from Philadelphia approximately 11 months ago in the Sixers’ trade for Harden, had a nice start. In his first stint, he scored a tip-in layup and a post-up bucket against an off-balance Georges Niang. Harrell then swung the momentum of the individual battle by sizing Drummond up in the post and hitting a jumper over him. He also drew a charge on Derrick Jones Jr. and made a put-back layup to give the Sixers a 13-point edge.

Maxey played a major role in creating that lead. He was excellent at the beginning of the second period alongside the Sixers’ second unit, sinking a mid-range jumper and a step-back three. He also fired a high-velocity skip pass assist to Shake Milton. A missed heat check from well beyond the arc was entirely excusable.

The Sixers’ double-digit advantage didn’t last long because of their defensive problems; Chicago was 61.5 percent from the floor at halftime. Harden’s continued shooting woes hurt, too. After Harden fell to 0 for 8 from the floor, Tucker fouled DeRozan on a mid-range make and his free throw tied the contest at 50-all.

Rivers still appeared reluctant to play Thybulle sustained minutes, but he subbed the All-Defensive selection late in the second quarter. The move paid off when Thybulle blocked a DeRozan jumper and Harden then finally broke his personal ice with a fast-break layup. The Sixers didn’t close half well, though. LaVine scored five straight points, Thybulle couldn’t convert a finger roll at the buzzer, and the Sixers trailed by four points at intermission.

Futile comeback with LaVine in command

The Bulls entered Friday’s game last in the NBA in three-point frequency, for Cleaning the Glass. They made their long-range shots at a very high clip Friday, though.

Following a Harris layup that knotted the game at 69 apiece, Chicago responded with threes from Vucevic and LaVine. That duo combined made its first 10 long-distance attempts (eight of them by a scorching-hot LaVine).

Thybulle won’t always be a perfect solution when the Sixers need better defense, but he’s undoubtedly a strong option against many top wing scorers and has specifically done well on LaVine since their high school days. Inserting him in the third quarter was a sensible decision.

For a moment, it seemed like Thybulle might turn the tide. He guarded LaVine tightly on the wing, forcing a turnover, and Harden made his first three on the ensuing possession. However, one miscue didn’t throw LaVine out of his groove at all. He drilled an open catch-and-shoot three after a timeout, and the two-time All-Star looked unbothered even when the Sixers did contest his jumpers. Applying more pressure and varying their schemes also didn’t work for the Sixers. When they blitzed LaVine, Vucevic got a layup out of a textbook, tic-tac-toe passing sequence. LaVine knifed through the Sixers’ defense for a layup late in the third, and he exploded past Thybulle before drawing two free throws with 16.8 seconds left in the period. Thybulle headed to the bench and didn’t return.

PJ Tucker also wasn’t in the picture down the stretch; the 37-year-old sat out the final 18 minutes. Rivers began the fourth with Harrell before giving Paul Reed his first playing time of 2023.

While the Sixers cut their deficit to 110-102 with five straight Harris points, LaVine drained the air from the Sixers’ comeback balloon with a slick assist to Coby White and three more triples. Harden boosted his stat line slightly with a couple of late jumpers, but LaVine ensured the Sixers’ chances of a dramatic turnaround were very slim.

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