The Philadelphia 76ers (47-23) returned home to finish off their regular season docket with a two-game series against the Orlando Magic (21-49). Philadelphia was on the second leg of a back-to-back and was looking to wash away the bitter taste left by a hideous loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night. The Magic were looking to snap a five-game losing streak. Actually, if we’re being honest, they were probably hoping to extend it. Every loss gets them decimal points on a percentage closer to the very top of the draft! The Sixers took care of business, 122-97, and finally clinched the 1-seed in the Eastern Conference.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Magic were without:
- Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle sprain)
- James Ennis III (sore right calf)
- Markelle Fultz (torn left ACL)
- Jonathan Isaac (left ACL and meniscus recovery)
- Chuma Okeke (sprained left ankle)
- Otto Porter Jr (left foot pain)
- Terrence Ross (back spasms)
Steve Clifford started Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Dwayne Bacon, Moritz Wagner, and Wendell Carter Jr.
The Sixers were without Dwight Howard (suspension) and Matisse Thybulle (swollen left hand). Doc Rivers started Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
The Magic started the game with two turnovers in their first four possessions. One was a charge on Moritz Wagner. The other was the ultra rare double-dribble from Cole Anthony. The Sixers were getting every chance to maximize their scoring opportunities. Philly was able to capitalize on six of its first thirteen possessions. While they still converted nearly half of their possessions, you would like to see them come out with more juice after being embarrassed on Thursday. They were certainly more responsive than they were to the Heat, but the Sixers were not executing like a team with supreme focus.
As everyone expected, the second unit of Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, George Hill, Furkan Korkmaz, and Mike Scott carried the Sixers to a double-digit lead early in the second quarter. Part of it surely was that the Magic are not good. For that reason, you can’t inflate this performance. The Sixers’ bench has been wildly inconsistent all season. That’s still a very valid weakness. But, the reserves totally outworked their counterparts in their first stint of play.
“I thought the ball moved again.”
The Sixers were executing synchronized rotations and were not giving up their positioning when Orlando pushed harder. Philly put forth a spirited effort in the passing lanes, but wasn’t overly stimulated to the point of making poor gambles. They were seeking deflections and transition opportunities, and looking to push the pace. On the offensive end of the floor, the Sixers were making multiple passes and looking for opportunities to challenge Orlando’s interior. The penetration and the extra passing, together, were manufacturing open looks for Philadelphia. A rarity, indeed, but the Sixers’ starters were able to check back in with a bigger lead than the one they had built before checking out.
Rivers was particularly satisfied with the second unit’s passing in the affair. “I thought the ball moved again,” Rivers said after the game. “I thought there was a stretch early in the year where we felt like we were almost unguardable because the ball was moving. That had kind of gone away a little bit. So tonight, to see it happen again, was great.”
Embiid was making a concerted effort to get on the floor to secure loose balls when they were within reach. While he wasn’t dominant the way he usually is the game following a clunker, he put forth a far more professional effort than he did in Miami. He was active on the glass, battling for offensive rebounds and second chance buckets. Under the rim, he was engulfing Orlando ball-handlers and spiking away the basketball as if it were a volleyball. While he faced a minute degree of adversity scoring the ball, he was clearly playing with urgency. Seeing as Philly led 66-43 at halftime, it bled into the rest of the Sixers.
The Sixers Need To Ignore The Bait
Embiid and Bacon got into a bit of a scuffle after some hard contact in the second quarter. There was a bit of shoving involved, but nothing escalated. This underscores a bit of a trend developing with the Sixers of late. Opponents are giving them their best shots, and the physicality is intensifying. With that, the Sixers have found themselves getting into momentary scuffles more frequently in the last few weeks.
As the playoffs draw near and passion comes out more frequently and profusely, the Sixers are going to have to maintain their composure when teams try to bait them into technical fouls. It’s part of the maturing process, and that’s some of the intangible value of having Danny Green and Dwight Howard as vets. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in mentioning Howard in that context. But, his role and history does not mean he’s incapable of helping his younger teammates avoid those problems.
The shot clocks malfunctioned at the start of the third quarter. Matt Cord, long-time Sixers PA announcer, was forced to verbally announce the amount of time left on the shot clock. I would like the record to show that this only happened on my first time covering the Sixers in-person. I thought I was powerful, but I didn’t realize I was that powerful.
“It’s probably a little weird the first couple of possessions, but you get used to it and figure it out.”
Anyway, I would have to assume that not having the visual of the shot clock changes the way you play a bit. Maybe the psychology of not being able to monitor it yourself kicks in and guys are much quicker in their decisions to shoot. At any rate, the Sixers were not wasting any time. They were seeking scores as quickly as possible. It proved to be for the better, as the offense flowed without any issue. Again, part of it likely involved Orlando simply not being good. But, the Sixers were not letting them back into the game, and they seemed anything but perturbed by the lack of a visual shot clock.
According to Seth Curry, it’s not that deep. “It has happened a couple of times over my career. I’ve had to do it,” Curry said after the game. “It’s probably a little weird the first couple of possessions, but you get used to it and figure it out.”
There were a pair of odd missed shots on Orlando’s end in this game. In the first half, a long jumper was wedged between the basket and the backboard, resulting in a jump ball. In the second half, a Mo Bamba miss popped over the backboard and was wedged by the shot clock. Tyrese Maxey was charged with prying the ball free with a mop stick, but he was not tall enough to reach it. George Hill gladly stepped up to the task, and the game was able to proceed.
Young Man Shouts At Cloud
Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Sixers leading by 26 points and all but guaranteed to win the Atlantic Division and clinch the 1-seed in the East, fans began departing. Call me a boomer, call me a weirdo, call me a nerd. I do not care. It’s a Friday night in May. Unless you have to work the night shift at your job or are trying to avoid close spaces due to COVID-19, it’s embarrassing to leave the game early. You’ve waited twenty years to see a Division championship and top seed. You’ve stuck through the lowest years and have experienced the heartbreak of falling short of expectations. To leave early is to reject the most unchartered moment this era of the franchise has ever seen. Embrace it. Dwight Howard has echoed it numerous times–you never know when the next chance will come.
“I told our guys they should enjoy–I even thought I would call it a moment–I told them to enjoy the second because it’s not what we want.”
The Sixers have officially clinched the 1-seed in the Eastern Conference. They have won their first Atlantic Division title since 2001. Just nine months ago, they were flying back to Philadelphia after being swept out of the First Round by the Boston Celtics. After a miserable season of inconsistency, the Sixers were left with more questions than answers. Now, under revamped leadership, they are at the top of the East.
Rivers has his eyes set on bigger goals, though. “It’s an accomplishment. I mean, I don’t want to downplay it,” Rivers said after the victory. “I told our guys they should enjoy–I even thought I would call it a moment–I told them to enjoy the second because it’s not what we want. But, it’s part of what you can get on your way to what you want. So, I think for this team, being as young as we are, to have homecourt is really important. It’s nice to have. And so we should feel proud of it.”
The Sixers (48-23) will close out the regular season on Sunday at home against the Orlando Magic (21-50). Tip-off is set for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.