The Sixers (10-9) played the second of their two-game series against the Magic (5-14) in Orlando on Sunday. Philadelphia wanted to sweep the double-date. Orlando aimed to snap a three-game losing streak. The Sixers used a 31-13 second quarter beatdown to trounce the Magic, 133-103.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
Philadelphia was without Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a sprained left mid-foot. James Harden is ramping up for a return from a tendon strain in his right foot and was unavailable. Tyrese Maxey is recovering from a small fracture in his eft foot and was out.
Matisse Thybulle has Tenosynovitis in his left ankle and was unavailable. Jaden Springer was out with a strained right quad.
Doc Rivers started Shake Milton, De’Anthony Melton, PJ Tucker, Tobias Harris, and Montrezl Harrell.
Orlando was without the services of Cole Anthony, who has a torn right internal oblique. Wendell Carter Jr. was out with strained right plantar fascia. Jalen Suggs has a sore right ankle and was unavailable.
Markelle Fultz is recovering from a fractured left big toe and was out. Jonathan Isaac is still recovering from a left knee injury and was unavailable. Chuma Okeke was unavailable due to a sore left knee.
Jamahl Mosley started Franz Wagner, Gary Harris, Paolo Banchero, Bol Bol, and Mo Bamba.
It was really good to see Harrell have his touch at the rim early on, the veteran big converting a pair of post moves against capable interior bodies in the game’s first five minutes. With the film from the first matchup still fresh, you expect Orlando to adjust against the players that really hurt them on Friday. So, any alternate sources of offense while the game is heating up are welcomed.
I really liked Philadelphia’s mindset on offense in the first quarter. The Sixers weren’t perturbed by Bol or Bamba, taking long jumpers as a normal portion of their shot selection but not neglecting the rim. Operating to get Bol out of the action was part of the strategy, taking away one of Orlando’s rim-protectors and creating space in the driving lanes. The Sixers were aggressive in getting their feet in the paint, regardless of who was in the way. As such, they got off to a fast start, a number of their early shots coming at the rim.
Something about the Magic jumping out to an early seven-point lead kicked both teams in their opposite directions, because it was a dominant half for Philly from that point on. It started with a buzzer-beating triple from Furkan Korkmaz to push the Sixers to a four-point lead and cap a 13-2 run to end the first quarter. From there, the Sixers looked like a well-oiled machine while the Magic looked like inexperienced children. Let’s start on the defensive end, where the Sixers coaxed Orlando into taking 14 threes in the second quarter.
It didn’t really matter whether the nearest Magician was the proper defensive assignment, the Sixers urgently shuffling out to get a hand up on shooters. They kept Orlando out of the paint, and it eventually became a point of pride for the young Magic, a variety of players getting up threes to try to stymy the bleeding. The pressure in the passing lanes and on the ball also tickled the Magic into a couple of cough-ups in the frame.
It was one of the best defensive quarters the Sixers have played all season, serving as a powerful message about how dominant their defense can be if they’re all connected and communicating. Orlando scored 13 points in the frame, the defense was close enough to perfect to call it perfect.
Offensively, it was the latest display in a trend of great ball movement for the Sixers. They whipped the ball around the perimeter, getting up seven triples in the quarter. But, they continued their activity in attacking the rim, as well. Each of Milton, Harris, Paul Reed, and Georges Niang registered multiple buckets at the rim, the Sixers’ reserve big man providing the most notable in the form of a Statue of Liberty reverse dunk over Bol.
The variety of shots at the rim the Sixers got was a good barometer for how difficult they were to defend. They attacked the rim aggressively in isolation, cut around the floor as Orlando grew fatigued with all the movement, and used the increased chaos on the perimeter to feed divers out of screening actions. They ran the Magic out of their own building, clicking as well as they ever have on both ends.
Reed deserves some spotlight for his efforts on the glass in that decisive second quarter. He chased defensive rebounds all over the floor to hold Orlando to one shot on various possessions. His length also helped the Sixers get out and run, deflecting passes and offering contests on shots to create live-ball opportunities. Extended runs aren’t entirely about scoring. You also have to get stops, and Reed was the linchpin of Philadelphia’s one-and-done defensive run.
Danuel House Jr. is a man of many quirks. The two that induce laughter are his requirement to make every corner three a step-back three and then to run so hard into an emphatic dunk that he knocks himself to the ground with a hard fall.
Niang sneakily becoming one of the best driving finishers on the team is not something that would’ve made my preseason “Bold Predictions” column, if I had even written one. It’s almost hard to absorb considering that he’s not exactly gifted with immense verticality or speed.
Not much better for an NBA team’s competitive edge than putting forth a 30-point spanking on the first night of a back-to-back. Get some ice and rest up.
Hell broke a bit loose as soon as Harris and Milton were spelled for their first substitutions. The lack of ball-handling inspired Orlando to pressure the perimeter, goading the Sixes into rushing passes or dribble moves. That’s especially dangerous when Reed is on the floor, the young big vacillating between slowing the game down on offense and rushing every decision he makes. The more Orlando pressured the perimeter, the more the Sixers had to pass to move the ball around the floor. That was when they got sloppy with the ball, and the Magic were out and running.
PJ Tucker did not play in the second half due to left ankle soreness. Danuel House Jr. started the third quarter in his place.
There’s no denying that the brand of basketball the Sixers are playing without their three best players is more fun to watch than it is when their three ball-dominant players are available. You’re not going to win many games by 30 points, and this game should not be the standard of a group that is severely short-handed right now. The Sixers will undoubtedly play more tightly-contested games than they do blowouts, and that’s where you need your star power the most.
But, the ball movement has to continue, even when Embiid, Harden, and Maxey are back. It’s far more effective when everyone is moving and the ball is hopping from side to side. The defense should be able to maintain its play when Embiid returns, but the offense has work to do. Here’s to hoping the three spotlit guys are watching and inspired by the style. If not, best of luck to the coaching staff on finding a happy medium.
The Sixers (11-9) will host the Atlanta Hawks (11-9) on the second leg of a back-to-back on Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBA TV.