The Sixers defeated the Orlando Magic yesterday 116-105, in a game where they were outplayed in both the opening and finishing minutes. The Sixers didn’t gain the lead until 9:06 into the first quarter. Once they did, they didn’t give it up, despite the Magic going on a 15-2 run with six minutes left in the game. The Magic were able to pull the game within 9, but the wind was taken out of their sails when a Mario Hezonja 3-pointer rimmed out.
The star of last night’s game was none other than Joel Embiid. He had 28 points and 14 rebounds in only 26 minutes of play. In the first quarter, Embiid was on pace to get the Magic’s back up center Bismack Biyombo fouled out in a minute and a half as he picked up three consecutive fouls in the span of 44 seconds. Biyombo was replaced by Khem Birch, who didn’t fare much better, scoring only one point on his 25% free throw shooting.
We were robbed of a few Embiid highlights during the game but were blessed with one terrific one. The first missed opportunity was midway through the third quarter on a pass from Ben Simmons. Ben appeared to be going up for a layup but, instead hit Embiid with a behind-the-back dish. Unfortunately, Embiid fumbled with the ball upon catching it (and probably was fouled) and wasn’t able to slam it down to complete a play that would certainly be on both of these young stars’ highlight reels.
The second was a missed Embiid dunk, that surely would have brought the house down had it been successful. Actually, it still brought the house down, it was that ferocious. Watching it back, one of the best things about the dunk was the amount of offensive rebounding, recovering potential turnovers, and good ball movement that led to Embiid possessing the ball. The full possession was over 30 seconds and included a missed Marco Belinelli three, an Embiid offensive rebound, T.J. McConnell chasing down a loose ball, and three great passes (especially the dime from T.J. to J.J. under the basket) before Embiid gets the ball. Once he does, he attacks the basket with such strength that it is extremely impressive that the lane did not just clear for him. If the dunk had gone in, I would’ve been very concerned for Biyombo’s family. Here is the play after McConnell chases down the loose ball:
His true highlight of the night came not long after that missed dunk. And no, it wasn’t his Dirk Nowitzki-like one-foot fadeaway jumper. It was the massive block on the next possession in which he denied Shelvin Mack at the rim and flexed (literally) so hard. The finger wag was just icing on the cake. Watch:
Here is the finger wag in GIF form, just for fun:
His game wasn’t only highlights, however. He also had ZERO turnovers, for only the fourth time in his career. Considering how much turnovers have hurt this young team, the fact that Embiid is making such strides in this area says a lot about the development and growth within the Sixers organization. In his post-game interview, Embiid stated that he is at about 87% (shout out to the Delaware 87ers) right now, as compared to the 81% last time he was asked. When a guy who is already as good as Joel Embiid is getting visibly better, that’s a scary thought for opponents.
Ben Simmons had a good night, finishing 17-4-7. Impressively, Ben shot 63.6% tonight, on 11 attempted FGs and 75% from the line. According to CleaningTheGlass.com, going into tonight’s game Simmons had taken 53% of his shots from the rim, and 40% from short mid-range. Tonight, he shot 45% of his shots from short mid-range. He made three of those shots, including an 11-foot turnaround hook shot. Simmons seems to be slowly becoming more comfortable taking these midrange jump shots. Simmons finding his jump shot is another scary thought, at least for other teams. Lucky for us, him (and Embiid) are ours.
Robert Covington came out with a new hair-do, and also his shot. He shot 44.4% from beyond the arc, finishing with 12 points. The last time he shot that well in a game in which he had more than five 3PAs was January 24th against Chicago.
J.J. Redick was quietly efficient, shooting 75% from the floor and finishing with 16 points. On the opposite end, Dario Saric had a quietly inefficient night. He had 11 points but an effective field goal percentage of only 35%. That is his lowest since that abysmal loss to the Brooklyn Nets at the end of January. Maybe his shoulders are tight from his sunburn?
Richaun Holmes saw backup center minutes over Amir Johnson. Due to the Sixers slow start, I originally believed that Brown decided to take advantage of the energy that Holmes can bring off the bench to infuse some life into his struggling offense. However, postgame, both Holmes and Brown confirmed that the plan was to play him in the backup position all along. In his postgame press conference, Brown said, “I came into the game knowing I was going to play him….that’s an example of just trying to keep somebody alive. And we understand that there will be times that we will need him. When we play him we see what he brings to the table.” Holmes didn’t waste his opportunity, with 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. Holmes can sometimes look out of place defensively, but he is such an aggressive rebounder that I am often surprised when there are rebounds that he doesn’t get. Last night, he pulled down four rebounds in a span of just over two minutes. Plus these are always fun:
That's a nice alley-oop, Holmes. pic.twitter.com/2YntV5L2Tu— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 24, 2018
Marco Belinelli and T.J. McConnell provided quality playing time off the bench, with the latter playing a team-high 30 minutes. While McConnell only provided four points, he had six assists (see Holmes dunk above) and two steals. On the other end of the spectrum, Belinelli had 15 points off the bench, a number that Jerryd Bayless has only put up three times this season. Belinelli has scored in double figures in two of the three games he has played for the Sixers.
The Orlando Magic never gave up fighting, playing their starters and continuing to foul until the end of the game. Their team was led by Aaron Gordon, who put up 20 points with 12 points coming from threes. He had a team-high +7, a higher +/- than Simmons, Covington, and Saric. Mario Hezonja continued to provide strong play off the bench, scoring 13 points.
The Sixers have now won seven straight games and 12 games in a row in the city of Philadelphia. They haven’t lost a game since the Eagles won the Super Bowl, and haven’t dropped a game in the Center in 2018.
Coming up the Sixers embark on a three-game road trip, starting with a game tonight against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards currently sit in 4th in the Eastern Conference standings but are only one game ahead of the Sixers. A win could prove crucial when it comes to playoff seeding down the home stretch. Luckily, our big man is planning on playing. When asked whether he was playing in the back-to-back, Joel Embiid answered, “I’m cleared for back to backs, so yeah, for sure.” After Washington, they play Miami on Tuesday and Cleveland on Thursday.