Here’s a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of my observations from tonight’s 116-114 nail-biter Sixers win over the Orlando Magic.
Q1: Need a rebound game tonight, after that abomination versus Brooklyn. Preferably one where Joel Embiid and James Harden can get some extra rest with a back-to-back tomorrow night against Denver, as well. Really nice start to the first from Tobias, who nets 7 of the Sixers’ first 8. Joel is certainly taking it half-speed on defense in this opening frame. Great to see Markelle Fultz back on the court. Some listless play from the Sixers thus far. Sixers continue to stagger Harden and Embiid. Sixers closing the first with Harden-Milton-Harris-Niang-Jordan. Really hope Harden can get it going tonight. 29-24, Magic.
Q2: Sixers are just getting thoroughly out-hustled by this hungry Magic team on the road and it’s showing on the scoreboard. Matisse Thybulle picking up three first half fouls against the Magic with Danny Green out is something that just can’t happen. Magic open up a 14 point lead. Yuck. Harden is having another really rough go of it. So far, this has been an incredibly dispiriting response to Thursday’s letdown. Embiid is 4/15 out of the gate. The Sixers have some work to do. 59-47, Magic.
Q3: If nothing else, the Sixers’ energy level looks improved to start the half. They cut the deficit to four. Crisper passing, a three from Harden, and improved defensive rotations. Sixers seem to be getting their mojo back a bit — excellent Harden pass to Embiid garners the and-one and Joel celebrates. Credit where it’s due: Wendell Carter Jr. has played some solid defense on Embiid tonight. The Magic fight back and widen the lead back to nine. Terrible Matisse game so far. The Sixers need to spend more time prioritizing Tyrese Maxey’s offense. Signs of improvement in this frame, but not enough. 80-74, Magic.
Q4: A Markelle Fultz stepback three puts the Magic up 10 with 10 minutes left. Hello darkness my old friend. Georges Niang is once again enormous for the Sixers. He knocks down a three, Harden gets a steal, dishes to Maxey who lays it in. Embiid appears to be coming in after the break with the Sixers down four. The Sixers cut the deficit to one with 5:30 left. Magic bucket, then a big Harden stepback three ties it. Then an Embiid three puts the Sixers up and Embiid is screaming with excitement. Let’s go. As Marc Zumoff would say, we’re on the seesaw here, with the lead going back and forth. 104 all with 53 seconds left. Tobias misses at the rim. Tied at 104, we’re going to overtime.
OT: First of all, this is the exact opposite of what the Sixers wanted, of course. Even if they win this game, they screwed around against this Magic team for far too long and now have to play overtime and then fly home and play in a back-to-back against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets in a game I’m sure they absolutely want to win. Extremely frustrating, especially coming off of such a disappointing no-show against Brooklyn.
Anyway, overtime. Three highlight-reel threes from Cole Anthony combat buckets from Harden and Embiid. Magic go up four with 1:23 left. Harden lays it in for two. Tremendous block by Embiid on Anthony, good lord. Enormous three by Harris in the corner puts the Sixers up one. 30 seconds left. Matisse gets called for a foul on the rear-view block, it looks completely clean to me. Doc Rivers challenges it. Challenge successful! Clean block. Jump ball, Maxey secures it. He makes one of two free throws. 13 seconds left. Magic ball. Matisse with a horrible reach in foul on Wagner. Inexcusable. Wagner bails him out and misses a free throw. Somehow, after sleepwalking in the first half and on really bad shooting nights from the field for Embiid and Harden, the Sixers escape with the win. They made it so much harder than they needed to, but they got the win. 116-114, Sixers.