The Sixers defeated the Orlando Magic last night 116-115, surviving Orlando’s hot shooting and the loss of Ben Simmons in the first quarter. After a rough start in Boston, the Sixers have now won two games in a row and are 2-1 on the season. Ben Simmons left the game in the first and would not return with back tightness, but the injury isn’t thought to be serious. Joel Embiid and JJ Redick combined for 73 of the Sixers 116 points.
The Sixers started off slowly once again, as the Magic scored the first nine points of the game and would lead by as much as 16 in the first quarter. The Sixers’ defense was struggling, but Orlando was shooting at an unsustainable pace. The Sixers would finish the quarter on a 20-6 run, and the score was 32-30 in favor of Orlando at the end of the first. The biggest play of the first quarter, however, was when Ben Simmons came up gimpy after a layup.
Simmons clearly is in pain after making the layup. He would leave the game shortly after this play and did not return.
The second quarter was Joel Embiid’s quarter. He scored 17 of his 32 points in the second. Embiid started the quarter off with an elbow jump shot and then had a nice move on the rookie Mo Bamba (The Sixers then played “Mo Bamba” after the basket, which was a fantastic troll).
Embiid then started to get comfortable from behind the three point line, as he hit from the top of the arc off of a nice feed from Markelle Fultz.
Embiid would then hit another three off of yet another great find by Markelle Fultz. While all of the attention has rightly been focused on Fultz’s jumper, he continues to impress as a distributor.
The Sixers dominated the second quarter, outscoring the Magic 33-20 and taking a 63-52 lead into the break.
Orlando started the third quarter hot and opened it on a 10-2 run to cut the lead to three. Every time the Sixers began to pull away, the Magic would respond with a mini-run to keep it within striking distance. The most impressive play of the quarter was Joel Embiid’s beautiful eurostep around Nikola Vucevic.
That bucket increased the Sixers lead to 11, and it seemed that they were about to pull away and coast to an easy win. However, Orlando would outscore the Sixers 17-9 to end the quarter, and it was an 89-86 game entering the final frame.
The first half of the fourth mimicked the previous quarter, with the Sixers threatening to pull away and Orlando refusing to go away. However, with five minutes left, JJ Redick made a pair of free throws to put the Sixers up 108-97. It appeared that the Sixers had finally put the Magic away for good. Orlando had different ideas, going on a 15-2 run to take their first lead since the end of the first quarter, capped off by this unbelievable shot by Terrence Ross:
Suddenly, it seemed that the Sixers were on their way to a peak Sixers loss. But JJ Redick, whose late game struggles are well-documented, knocked down one of the biggest shots of his Sixers tenure and put the Sixers up two with 17 seconds to go.
Orlando would get the ball back, and Aaron Gordon would draw a foul on Redick. He went 1-2 from the line, but Robert Covington and Nikola Vucevic both ended up with the rebound, and there was a jump ball. The Magic won possession off of the jump and immediately called TO with 4.6 seconds to go. Out of the TO, Terrence Ross, who had just hit a 40-foot three pointer a few minutes earlier, got a good look at a game winning shot.
Just about everyone in the world expected that shot to go in. Fortunately, the shot didn’t even hit rim, and the Sixers escaped with a 116-115 win.
The Sixers Need Ben Simmons
Duh. Ben Simmons’ value was clear on Saturday night as the Sixers struggled without him. The offense is built around Simmons handling the ball and is much smoother with him at the point. Luckily, it seems Simmons doesn’t have a serious injury and should hopefully be back Tuesday in Detroit.
Markelle Fultz Looked Comfortable
Markelle Fultz struggled last night, but it wasn’t due to of a lack of confidence. Fultz looked as comfortable as he ever has looked in a Sixers uniform. He didn’t aimlessly dribble into the lane and turn it over. He made nice passes. He rose up for pull-up jumpers even though they weren’t falling. Fultz’s stat line looked ugly at the end of the night, but it was an encouraging performance from the young guard.
Joel Embiid: MVP Candidate
The idea of Embiid as an MVP candidate was floated out there throughout the preseason, but it didn’t gain much traction. However, through three games Embiid is showing that he is a legitimate candidate. He has now scored 3o points in back-to-back games and has been fantastic defensively as well. Embiid could end up putting up a 27/12 line while being the best rim protector in the NBA. That very well could be enough for an MVP award.
Amir Johnson Was Written Off Too Soon
Amir Johnson struggled mightily on Tuesday night in Boston and wasn’t great Thursday night either. But he showed why the Sixers view him so highly on Saturday night against Orlando. Amir provided valuable defensive minutes and continues to show off an impressive touch around the rim. Amir is a top flight backup center in the NBA, and he showed why tonight.
Landry Shamet Might Be a Legitimate Rotation Player
Landry Shamet didn’t score tonight in 21 minutes, but he impressed on defense and was a +12 on the night. This was an encouraging sign as one of the biggest knocks on Shamet coming out of Wichita State was his defense, or lack of it. Because of that, most people expected Shamet to spend a decent amount of time in Delaware his rookie season, but he’s made it clear he can contribute right away. Shamet’s minutes will drop once Wilson Chandler and eventually Zhaire Smith return, but he is going to have a bigger role than expected his rookie season. It’s early, but Shamet appears to have been a steal at 26.
Ben Simmons – INC
Markelle Fultz – 8 PTS, 7 AST, 4 REB, 1 STL, 4-11 FG: C+
Robert Covington – 12 PTS, 4 REB, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 3-5 3PT: B+
Dario Saric – 13 PTS, 9 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 3-8 3PT: B+
Joel Embiid – 32 PTS, 10 REB, 3 AST, 0 TOs: A
JJ Redick – 31 PTS, 4 AST, 4 REB, 8-13 3PT: A+
TJ McConnell – 8 PTS, 4 AST, 4 REB, 1 STL: B
Landry Shamet – 0 PTS, 2 AST, 4 REB, 0-3 3PT: B-
Amir Johnson – 8 PTS, 6 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK: A+
Furkan Korkmaz – 0 PTS, 1 REB, 1 STL: C
Player of the Game: Joel Embiid
The Sixers head to Detroit on Tuesday for the front end of a back-to-back. They then take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on Wednesday night in Milwaukee. The Sixers can win both of these games, but a split would be a fine outcome.