The Sixers matched up with the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night for a late-night game. They were coming off of a strong road victory against a hot Sacramento Kings and looked to build on that success.
The team was somewhat shorthanded heading into this game as they were missing their sixth man, Shake Milton, due to a left ankle sprain. The silver lining was we would get to witness more of Sixers rookie Tyrese Maxey — who had fallen out of the Sixers’ nine man rotation.
This game began with a ton of back-and-forth with little defense played by either team. Damian Lillard and Gary Trent Jr. lit up the Sixers with a barrage of 3s early on, with the Blazers converting seven of their first eight 3-point attempts. Trent Jr. has given the Sixers trouble in recent memory, as he dropped 24 points in their previous matchup.
There was some good from the Sixers’ side of things, however, as Ben Simmons was aggressive and gave their offense some much-needed juice.
Love to see Ben Simmons being aggressive against a quality defender in Robert Covington. Great finish. pic.twitter.com/RSZhSCLwg3— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) February 12, 2021
The Blazers’ hot start prompted Doc Rivers to call a timeout, likely to address the lack of defense on the perimeter. The Sixers struggled with the Kings’ 3-point shooting just a few nights ago, and seemed to be suffering with the same problem against Portland.
That timeout seemed to help out the Sixers, who went on to prevent the next few perimeter attempts from the Blazers. The Sixers managed to get a few stops and convert on their next few trips down the court, which cut the once 8-point Blazers lead to 1. The Sixers’ offense was finally flowing.
It turns out that the Sixers are a lot of fun when they’re scoring more points than the other team. Ben Simmons continued punishing the Blazers inside, eventually amassing a total of 13 points in the 1st quarter alone. People will constantly critique Simmons over his jump shot (or lack there of), but his aggressive slashing to the rim kept the Sixers in this game early on. He was going toe to toe with Damian Lillard.
Oh yeah, Damian Lillard showed us why he’s considered one of the best point guards in the entire NBA early on. He hit countless shots from unlimited range and put together 19 points in his first 12 minutes of game time. The Sixers were in for a long night if they didn’t find a way to limit the Blazers’ star.
The second quarter began similar to the first, with both teams exchanging baskets. One positive that began to show some light was Tobias Harris, who attempted his fifth and sixth free throws in the game. This is an area I would love to see Harris improve upon, as he’s a great offensive talent that can get easy points at the charity stripe. Hopefully, this is a trend of more to come for the possible All-Star.
Tyrese Maxey looked a bit off during his first few minutes of the game. He seemed to lack some of the burst we saw early on in the season. Combine that with some hesitation in his jump shots and it was a recipe for not great minutes from the first-year guard. Hopefully this was Maxey shaking off some rust, as the Sixers will need him while Milton is out.
The Blazers were able to keep the Sixers at a decent arms length with Damian Lillard catching some rest on the bench. A Gary Trent Jr. layup extended the Portland lead back up to four points with over seven minutes to go in the period. The Blazers’ bench lineup did so well that Lillard got to have some extended rest, before checking in around the four-minute mark.
Ben Simmons continued to be the best bright spot for the Sixers through the first half, as he continued to show the same aggression that we saw in the first quarter. He scored his 15th point after an emphatic dunk.
MVP Candidate Joel Embiid began to warm up to his usual dominance after hitting a few free throws and post moves, pouring in basket after basket. He would finish the period with 23 points, which speaks to how great Embiid is as he started this game on a sluggish note. This was the 8th time this season in which Embiid has scored 20 or more points in the first half, which leads the entire NBA.
Enes Kanter managed to catch an unfortunate elbow to the face; which led to a lot of bleeding I’ll spare you all to see. He left with two minutes left to go in the first half.
Furkan Korkmaz — who hit a game-winner against this team — must enjoy playing Portland. He had a pretty nice dunk towards the end of the first half. Furkan dunks are becoming a nightly thing, apparently.
I guess Furkan Korkmaz dunks are becoming a nightly thing? pic.twitter.com/nMSCSnkpXy— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) February 12, 2021
That Furkan dunk must’ve shifted the game’s momentum, as the Sixers ended the first half on a surprisingly strong note. Joel Embiid hit a fadeaway midrange shot to beat the buzzer, putting the Sixers up 63-60 at halftime.
While Damian Lillard sat out nearly eight minutes of the period, I have to give the Sixers credit with their defensive adjustments. Lillard only had two points in the period, compared to 19 in the first quarter. It’s very challenging to slow an offensive machine in Lillard, but the Sixers did manage to do so.
The Sixers started off the second half on a great note, with Ben Simmons getting a quick two points followed with an Embiid corner 3. The success wasn’t celebrated long, as the Blazers went on a 9-2 run to close the Sixers lead from eight to one point, promoting Doc Rivers to use an early timeout.
This game was somewhat unique as we got a chance to see Simmons and Embiid dominating. We’ve seen games were Simmons has dominated, or Embiid has dominated, but we’ve rarely seen that from both in a game this season. Both were tremendous for the Sixers, and were the main reason they kept this game close through Portland’s lights out shooting.
Tonight also featured a common trend: the Sixers would gain a small single-digit lead and Portland would respond and close the gap. This cycle seemed to repeat throughout the majority of the second and third quarters.
Another bright spot in tonight’s game that I didn’t mention thus far was Seth Curry. This was the second game in a row where he looked more like himself — hitting a few 3s, and getting a bit of shot creation off the dribble. This was a great sight to see, and proved that his stellar performance in Sacramento wasn’t a fluke. Curry has been struggling with the aftereffects of having COVID-19. Hopefully his struggles are a figment of the past.
I also have to give some credit to Tobias Harris — who was quietly putting together a very solid game behind some dominant performances from his teammates. Harris hunted out some of his shots, but excelled in setting up his teammates tonight. He had several lobs to the likes of Embiid and Howard.
Tobias Harris has done an excellent job in facilitating tonight. He has 5 assists so far. pic.twitter.com/nK2OKCrwdR— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) February 12, 2021
The Sixers went into the fourth quarter with a four-point lead. Damian Lillard played the entire third quarter, and time would tell if his extended playing time would have any effect on the Blazers’ ability to close this game.
The final period began with a Tyrese Maxey layup. While his first-half minutes were certainly choppy, he put together some nice slashes to the rim that sparked the Sixers’ offense with Simmons and Embiid resting.
The Simmons and Embiid-less Sixers began getting carved up by Carmelo Anthony (?) after a short amount of time. Melo helped the Blazers spark a 13-4 run with Lillard on the bench, giving them a five-point lead with over eight minutes left to go. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid checked back in immediately following said run, and began producing much-needed points.
I certainly didn’t expect prime Carmelo Anthony to make an appearance tonight. Melo went from making wide open attempts to hitting circus shots off the backboard.
Simmons helped close the Blazers’ lead to just one point with over four minutes left to go in the final period with a tough layup. Simmons’ 23 points tonight were a season-high.
This game was really up in the air for either team. There was a ton of hustling and messy plays found throughout the quarter. The Sixers had two offensive rebounds on one position which lead to Tobias Harris getting fouled and hitting a pair of free throws to tie the game. The Blazers responded with a Trent Jr. 3, and a Lillard two to put the Blazers up five points with over a minute left to go.
When all hope was lost the Sixers came alive. Joel Embiid hit a pull-up midrange shot, which was followed with a clutch Seth Curry 3. It’s safe to say he’s back.
An incredible defensive possession from Ben Simmons, and a big shot from Seth Curry: pic.twitter.com/NTesP796ZM— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) February 12, 2021
Tobias Harris unfortunately had a late blocking foul on the final Blazers possession, which resulted in Melo getting free throws. Blazers were up two points with just over three seconds left to go. While it did seem like a foul, I’m utterly shocked Doc Rivers chose not to challenge it. The point of having a challenge is for moments like this.
The Sixers never managed to get a shot off as — you guessed it — Carmelo Anthony came up with the steal. Damian Lillard went on to ice the game and the Sixers dropped to 1-1 on their four-game road trip.
Thank goodness this is the last time they play the Portland Trail Blazers.