In this game’s preview, I wrote, “While Portland’s calling card is clearly their offensive attack behind Lillard and McCollum, a unit good enough to rank 10th in the league in offensive rating at 109.1 points per 100 possessions, this is their first test against The Process himself.” That’s true to a degree, but doesn’t mean much if Lillard and McCollum are draining shots from the outside before Joel Embiid (18 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks) has a chance to defend them. Lillard’s 16 first quarter points, on his way to 30 overall, solidified Portland early and tried to nullify whatever momentum the Sixers and Joel Embiid may have been riding after winning eight of their previous 10 games.
Despite a game that had a familiar feeling, that the Sixers would hang tough before unfortunate defeat, such a result didn’t happen tonight. After fighting for an offensive rebound with less than a minute left, Dario Saric found Robert Covington (22 points, five-for-12 on threes) for a three-point bucket that cut the score to 91-90. After Lillard split a pair of free throws to make it 92-90, T.J. McConnell pushed the ball down the court off the rebound, as Brett Brown eschewed calling a timeout, and then found Covington for a high-arcing made three with 4.5 seconds left. Can you smell what Rock Covington is cooking? It’s a game-winner.
The more critical story for the Sixers, however, is Embiid and the left knee contusion he suffered in the game. He visited the locker room three different times during the fourth quarter, eventually leading to him being shut down for the remainder of the game. With tomorrow night being the second half of a back-to-back, the Sixers will obviously with Embiid in Atlanta against the Hawks and possibly for even longer than that.
A win is a win, but Embiid’s longterm health, as the Sixers community has learned over the last three years, is more integral to the future direction of this franchise than any win or loss in a random January contest.