Monday's MLK Day matchup between the Houston Rockets and the Philadelphia 76ers proved to be a snoozer, as the 76ers went on a 17-3 run at the close of the first, putting them ahead 33-19. The Sixers held a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game (until garbage time in the fourth) and even led 66-47 at the half.
The final score was 124-115 but it wasn't nearly that close.
Sixers big man Joel Embiid, who was questionable heading into the game, absolutely dominated the Rockets from start to finish, as he finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, 12-of-21 from the field (57.1 percent), an astounding 72 percent true shooting, and 17 free throws, of which he made 16 (94.1 percent from the line).
After the game, Rockets coach Ime Udoka, a known defensive specialist, was asked about the Rockets' inability to defend the 2022-23 MVP and emphasized Embiid's frequent trips to the charity stripe.
"We have to be physical without fouling. We were undisciplined there. We know he's a guy that's gonna swipe.
"Things we talked about, we didn't really execute on that end defensively. We wanna be physical without fouling and when they were in the bonus, we gave them some easy shots or some questionable calls with the sweep through and all that.
He's been a high-level free throw shooter forever but you can crowd and be physical, especially on the perimeter, with getting a smaller guy up under him. But you have to be disciplined with the reach-ins and the fouling."
Rockets struggle mightily against 76ers star Joel Embiid
Although it didn't work because of Embiid's constant ability to draw the whistle (even when unjustified), Udoka planned to use the Rockets' lack of size to his advantage against the Sixers' big man.
"We have smaller bodies and we'd like to front the post. If he posts up, they'll put him at the nail or the elbow to try to isolate.
There are enough guys on their team that we can help off of and make rotations......Just throwing more bodies at him when we have a smaller defender on him."
The Rockets' struggles behind the arc (8-of-27 from deep) essentially made it impossible for them to trim the deficit to below double figures. The Sixers, on the other hand, were scorching from long-range, as they made 48.4 percent from deep (15-of-31).
The Rockets take the court again on Wednesday against the New York Knicks, which will be the last game of their six-game road trip.