The Sixers looked like a team who had almost no interest in winning this game tonight. That is until they seemed to notice they were down by eleven with under two minutes to play in the 4th period. Then they fought like mad and rattled off a 15-5 run which cut the Magic lead to one before Joel Embiid’s desperation heave fell short and it was all over. Magic 98 Sixers 97 was the final in an old-school defensive battle.
The Sixers have had a few games this season where they man-handled a team until the closing moments but then allowed a desperate opponent to sneak back into it because of poor execution, turnovers, and some crummy free throw shooting. Tonight they were on the other end of all that. The Magic worked and outplayed the Sixers for most of the evening. They had the game well in hand. But then they nearly choked down the stretch. Had the Sixers exhibited a modicum of the effort and intensity they displayed in the final minute-and-a-half at any point earlier in the contest, they may have run away with this thing; the Magic simply are not as talented. But Philadelphia, coming off of their Christmas day win over the league-best Bucks, appeared content to play in 5th gear for most of this one:
Orlando Nightlife remains undefeated— COOKIES HOOPS (GEN-X TRANQUILITY) (@CookiesHoops) December 28, 2019
The Magic are a top 12 defensive team per NBA.com. Only the Nuggets and Celtics allow less points per game than Orlando’s 104.9 ppg. They held the Sixers to just 97 by forcing them to shoot 34.5% from deep and 40.2% from the field. They out rebounded (48-45) the Sixers and had more points in the paint (44-32) bullying the bullies.
For the Sixers, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid led the way in the scoring department. They each had 24 points and 11 boards. Josh Richardson had 15 points, 6 dimes, and 3 steals and Ben Simmons pitched in 13 points to go along with his 7 dimes, 9 boards and 4 thefts. But it wasn’t enough. The Sixers could have used more offensive aggression from Simmons tonight. He didn’t hunt out smaller players and force them to foul him and the team really could have used that at times when they were lagging or cold from the outside.
Al Horford did not make a significant impact and at times looked a step slow. Given that the Sixers have a rematch against the Miami Heat tomorrow, it makes you wonder if Horford should have been given the night off this evening. I’m almost hoping he’s not fully healthy since that would explain why he hasn’t played particularly well recently. If that were in fact the case, he could take a few games off to recover. Is it possible he is still experiencing knee soreness and hamstring tightness which cost him a pair of games in mid December?
Markelle Fultz played significant minutes in this “revenge game:”
Philly clearly doesn't think much about Markelle Fultz's range, but he makes 'em pay this time: pic.twitter.com/wvGbVM3sXS— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) December 28, 2019
Fultz went 2-4 from deep to go with his 13 points, 6 dimes, and 3 boards. He doesn’t look like a comfortable shooter but he doesn’t look incapable of shooting open 3s or free throws like he once did in Philly. Evan Fournier, who is rumored to be on the trading block, led the way for Orlando with 20 points. His soft touch on floaters and accuracy beyond the arc tormented the Sixers for stretches this evening.
The loss brings the Sixers to 7-9 on the road this year, a surprisingly poor record away from Wells Fargo. We have seen poor efforts, cold shooting, and too many turnovers cost them winnable games. Tonight certainly falls into both the poor effort and cold shooting categories. It’s too hard to get wins when you have those issues. As of right now the Sixers are in possession of the 6th seed in the East. If the playoffs (or some weird mid-season tournament) started today they would be on the road against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, their opponent for tomorrow.
It will be interesting to see if they can muster a better effort in their second of a back-to-back and if they load manage either of Embiid or Horford. It doesn’t get too much easier after that as they’re on the road against Indiana, then Houston, before hosting the Thunder and Celtics. This is one of their rougher stretches of the season so dropping a game against a weaker team like Orlando hurts a little bit extra.