The Philadelphia 76ers started yet another era of basketball, tonight, against the Orlando Magic. This time, it is the era of Sixers basketball in a pandemic bubble without All-Star Ben Simmons.
Simmons was injured in the last game against the Washington Wizards. Head coach Brett Brown went to Al Horford to start alongside Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Shake Milton. The Magic came in down two forwards in Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. Gordon was out due to a hamstring injury suffered against the Toronto Raptors, and Isaac went down after tearing the ACL in his left knee.
At the start, both teams missed their first ten shots combined, and then Richardson hit a three to put the Sixers on the board. That would be their only points outside of the paint in that quarter as the Sixers really went to work in the box. The team is top-5 in points in the paint since the bubble started, and that didn’t change.
After one quarter, the Sixers scored 12 points in the paint – which is good since the team shot 37% for the quarter. Embiid seemed very sluggish and “going through the motions” only scoring four points and deferring to a lot of jump shots as opposed to going into the paint like Horford or Harris. (Sure, he’s playing his fourth game in seven days, but that’s why you give Horford more minutes or give Norvel Pelle some minutes or just use his fouls.)
The Magic took some advantage of Embiid seeming lethargic as they went on an 11-2 run in the second quarter led by former Sixers center Nikola Vučević who had 11 points and eight rebounds on 5/10 shooting. Embiid was 3/8 but mostly on jump shots. Harris was 4/15 from the floor in the first half, and the Sixers went into the break trailing by two at 50-48.
Who knows what was said in the locker room to Embiid, but the big man woke up in the second half.
Embiid started the third quarter looking for his points more on the block versus trailing out past the three-point line. He spent much time muscling with Vučević or Karim Birch or whoever had the unfortunate task of guarding him. Getting going with 12 points in the third was important when you factor in that Magic guard D.J. Augustin was absolutely COOKING Shake Milton on defense finishing with 13 of his own in the third quarter.
A 9-3 run to start the final period put the Sixers up, and the home squad leaned on Embiid, Horford (who had another good game finishing with 21 points on 14 shots), and Alec Burks who continues his hot shooting since the bubble games began. Burks finished with 22 points off 3/7 from three. Harris had a much needed second half finishing with 23 points and a career high 15 rebounds (six of them offensive).
The Magic could not get any offense going in the fourth, and Terrence Ross’s 0/10 performance certainly didn’t help. Before the game was out of reach, the Magic had four straight empty possessions before it became a free throws and fouling game. Evan Fournier finished with 22 points. Vučević added 21 of his own with 12 rebounds, and Augustin finished with 16.
Without two forwards, the Sixers muscled their way to this win to make the tally 3-1 inside the bubble. Half of the Sixers points (54) came in the paint.