Embiid 50 night, Sixers-Magic

The Sixers (25-18) hosted the Orlando Magic (8-37) on Wednesday. Philly wanted to right its wrongs from a loss to the Wizards on Monday. Orlando had designs of snapping a two-game losing streak. Joel Embiid tied his career-high of 50 points to lead the Sixers past the Magic, 123-110.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The following Magicians were unavailable due to injuries involving their left knees:

  • Markelle Fultz (recovery from torn ACL)
  • Jonathan Isaac (recovery from torn ACL)
  • E’Twaun Moore (sprain)

Michael Carter-Williams missed the game with a left ankle injury.

Wendell Carter Jr is nursing a sore left hamstring and was unavailable.

Head coach Jamahl Mosley was ineligible to be on the sideline after entering the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol. Jessie Mermuys was elevated to head honcho.

Mermuys started Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, and Mo Bamba.

Danny Green remained out for the Sixers with pain in his right hip. Shake Milton was unavailable due to a back contusion. Matisse Thybulle missed the game with a sprained right shoulder.

Paul Reed and Jaden Springer are on G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not with the team.

Ben Simmons is not mentally ready to play and was out.

Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Charlie Brown Jr, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

First Quarter

Few things quite summarize the Sixers’ most glaring weakness as well as the Magic out-hustling the Sixers to a pair of offensive rebounds on their first possession of the game before ultimately depositing a Mo Bamba tip-in. The Sixers are 20th in the NBA in opponent offensive rebound percentage. In other words, the opposition comes down with the ball on their own misses 26.7 percent of the time.

It doesn’t matter if the Magic are 8-37. The Sixers simply need to do the little things, like finish defensive stanzas with box-outs, better. Their point differential is plus-1.6. That says they’re not good enough to just neglect such a glaring shortcoming.

Aside from Joel Embiid’s utter dominance, it was quite the sleepy first quarter for Philadelphia. In fact, the perfect metaphor for the entire first frame was Drummond botching what would’ve been an easy dunk on a lob from Georges Niang. But, the Sixers led after one quarter entirely because of Embiid.

The big guy had 20 of the team’s 25 points in the first period. After missing his first shot of the game, Embiid went on to hit his next six shots. And it wasn’t as if he abandoned his teammates for the sake of taking over the game. He attempted to get them involved, but they were content with powering his heater. And so it was Embiid versus the Magic in the first 11 minutes of play. 

Second Quarter

Viewers were treated to the full Drummond experience in the second quarter. After throwing the Niang alley-oop off the back iron in the first frame, Drummond flushed one when given a redemption lob in the second frame. He then followed it with a nice post move over Bamba. A few possessions later, Drummond’s attempt at a crafty finish was deflected over the backboard. He caught the ball under the basket, and then fell out of bounds and turned it over.

The scoring balance evened a bit as the game progressed. Embiid had 24 of the Sixers 47 points before intermission. The ignition to that outburst was Orlando’s defense. They were content allowing him to play in single coverage all half. Bamba is certainly a capable shot-blocker, but he just doesn’t have the size to square with Embiid. I suppose that ability to seamlessly drop 24 points against single coverage speaks to how seriously Embiid has begun to take his game. You never see him in single coverage anymore because of what he’s capable of doing. The standard he has set for himself is nothing short of brilliance in the face of a single defender. When it does happen, it’s an easy 20-plus-point half. 

An appropriate encapsulation of the first half was Mo Bamba’s 28 points on 7 threes. It wasn’t anything particularly innovative on offense. Whether it was pick-and-pops or swing passes, the Sixers simply weren’t stepping out to contest. He hasn’t established himself as a credible shooter thus far in his career, so it’s understandable if you don’t sound the alarm after the first two made triples. But the guy hit 7, and the Sixers weren’t particularly interested in honoring his hot streak. Perhaps that’s forgivable if the shooter cools off in the second half. But, if you succumb to the 8-37 Magic on your home floor, it’s a significant regret and lost opportunity.

Third Quarter

Charlie Brown Jr did not start in the second half after looking a bit overwhelmed in the first half. Furkan Korkmaz started in his place.

You can tell Tobias Harris is back in his own head when he takes a few dribbles, attacks a space in the middle of the floor, and then stops on a dime and passes out of it. Those occurrences are so bizarre that they almost beg the question of whether his controller died mid-possession. Anyway, it wasn’t a bad shooting first half for Harris by any stretch of the imagination. But, he looks extremely uncomfortable with himself whenever he initiates a dribble.

Part of it may be his acknowledging his own body. It’s pretty obvious he’s been unable to get around defenders with quick first steps this season. So when he initiates a drive, perhaps he’s realizing he doesn’t have the angle to the rim that he wants and, thus, pulls the plug. Whether it’s physical or mental, Harris just doesn’t look comfortable with himself right now. To be fair to all sides, he hasn’t looked comfortable with himself for the overwhelming majority of the season.

While Embiid’s dominance persisted, the Sixers’ defense never quite picked up. Whether it was rushes to the rim by the speedy Cole Anthony or pull-up threes in transition, the Sixers were ridiculously slow getting back on defense. It took a few minutes for them to restore order after halftime because they didn’t compound the effects of their own scores with stops on defense. Embiid, in particular, showed some frustration with his teammates. After a Magician canned an open pull-up triple, the big man waved his arms in disgust so as to plead with his teammates to put even a modicum of effort in defensively.

It didn’t much matter from that point on, Embiid was simply dominant. He gave the Magic the full meal. Physical dominant at the rim that resulted in easy layups or emergency fouls. Numerous Kobe-esque turn-around jumpers. To cap off a 47-point outing through 3 quarter, he buried a fadeaway triple in Robin Lopez’s face. The Sixers outscored the Magic 47-23 in the third frame.

Fourth Quarter

The Sixers finally pulled away early in the fourth quarter with some boat-racing to the rim against Orlando’s transition defense. From there, it was purely cosmetic. Embiid checked back in with the affair already decided to pursue his 50th point. Fittingly, he got there on a trio of free throws before checking out of the contest. Embiid tied his career-high of 50 on just 23 shots. He needed just 27 minutes to do so.

RJ Hampton went down clutching his knee and writhing in pain for the Magic late in the fourth quarter. Tyrese Maxey and Doc Rivers immediately went over to him to check on his condition. The young wing was able to walk off the court under his own power.

The Sixers (26-18) will host the Los Angeles Clippers (22-23) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.