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Sixers falter late in loss, Saric and Embiid show promise

Late-game meltdown prevents Sixers from earning first regular season win.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The “Dario Saric revenge game” turned out to be a demoralizing loss for the Sixers (0-3), who dropped their third game of the season to the Orlando Magic 103-101. Up 94-84 with 8:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia scored just seven points in the remainder of the contest and found another way to lose a close contest. A Joel Embiid turnover on the offensive end with the game tied at 101 and a lucky bounce for Orlando (1-3), leading to a flagrant foul on T.J. McConnell, allowed Orlando to feverishly come back Tuesday.

Despite the one possession defeat, multiple Sixers talents had their breakout game against the Magic.

Saric churned out one of his best performances as a Sixer, scoring 21 points (9 for 15 shooting) and hauling in three boards in the loss. Coming into the game shooting just 14.3 percent from deep, Saric was electric from three, going 3-of-4 behind the arc. Orlando’s defense left him space on a couple of looks from deep and he scorched them. It was the breakout game the Sixers were clamoring for from the Croatian forward, who had incentives to dominate against the team who drafted him.

Another new member to the starting lineup this season, Gerald Henderson played “his” game en route to 18 points, four rebounds and an assist. Henderson entered the matchup shooting just 27.3 percent from the floor but a bevy of high-percentage looks tied into his 7-of-13 shooting performance. Henderson’s wheelhouse looks to be on the baseline, where he’ll teardrop or settle for a jumper. It’s a new wrinkle in the Sixers’ offensive attack.

Philadelphia, for the first time this season, eclipsed the 48 percent shooting mark (40 for 82) and their fluidity and ball movement fueled a more dominant offensive performance than in previous games. With the team surging on that end, they needed to replicate that success on the defensive side to maintain a lead against the Magic. Despite the inevitably futile effort in that regard, Joel Embiid was the rim protector the Sixers needed amidst Nerlens Noel’s absence. He blocked a career-high four shots, whether it was engulfing attempts against bigs or guards, and his defensive effort in 24 minutes looked promising.

On the offensive end, he used his power, at times, to overwhelm Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo. His mid-range game was crisp, per usual, as the 7-foot-2 center finished with 18 points (6-of-12 shooting).

The Sixers will take on the gritty Charlotte Hornets (2-1) Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. ET in Charlotte.

Other Takeaways:

  • Hollis Thompson looked controlled when taking threes tonight. Thompson shooting fading three-point jumpers vs. catch-and-shoot looks is a battle he’s endured for three-plus years now. Able to set his feet and fire with determination allowed the two-guard to contribute a game-high 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting. With Nik Stauskas struggling for the first time in the regular season (two points, 1-of-6 shooting in 22 minutes), Thompson’s explosion was essential for the bench to sustain scoring possessions.
  • Sergio Rodriguez is continuously acclimating to the NBA style, but he’s making definite strides early in the season. Sinking a deep three in the fourth quarter that put the home team up 10 points, Rodriguez earned extensive minutes with his consistent offense. With his first double-double of the season (12 points, 11 assists), Rodriguez looked competent running the show for the Sixers.
  • Closing out games has been a consistent problem. Running a dump off from Rodriguez to Embiid in the high post and having the rookie center make an important decision late in the game is sub-optimal. Getting the ball to Embiid on the final possession was an ideal setup by Brown, but Embiid’s offensive awareness is in a developing state.
  • Robert Covington had another frigid shooting performance, going 0-of-6 from the floor. Whether it’s opening as the team’s small forward or sliding to the 4 in smaller lineups, Covington isn’t being featured in many offensive sets Brett Brown runs. His inefficiency tanks possessions, opting for quick catch and release jump shots. His length will always be a plus for him on the defensive end. He just might not be the 3-and-D guy he flashed early in his career.
  • Defensive rebounding was knowingly going to be a major issue with Vucevic coming to town. While Okafor isn’t the most adept defensive rebounder, his size and girth could’ve been somewhat effective dealing with the lightweight Vucevic. Orlando hauled in 12 offensive boards and continued possessions with more hustle and size. Vucevic’s effort on the boards was unparalleled in tonight’s game.

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