Wednesday night’s showdown between the current No. 1 seeds in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference certainly lived up to expectations.
In the end, the Sixers won it, 131-123 in overtime, because they had the best player on the court. They may have the best player in the NBA for the first half of the season.
Joel Embiid tied the game late in regulation by scoring a heroic triple from the right wing despite being heavily protected by Bojan Bogdanovic.
Mike Conley’s right running back on Utah’s final possession did not fall, sending the game into overtime, where the Sixers maintained their momentum.
Embiid had 40 points on 14 of 27 shooting and 19 rebounds. Ben Simmons had 17 points and six assists.
The All-Star Game will take place Sunday in Atlanta, Georgia. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers and his staff will lead the team led by Kevin Durant, while Simmons and Embiid will be chosen in the All-Star draft Thursday night. Fans will be allowed to attend the Sixers’ next home game, which is scheduled for March 14.
Here are three observations on the Sixers’ dramatic 24-12 win over Utah:
Incredible Embiid vs. Another DPOY Contender
From the first warning, it seemed Embiid was well positioned for a comfortable offensive night. His first two baskets were a byproduct of the Sixers sensibly knocking two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert away from the rim when Embiid converted a back-step foul line jump on a pick-and-roll and laid a layup when he rolled after initiating a dribble transfer action on the wing with Seth Curry.
The Sixers fed Embiid for back-to-back middle distance jumps after Derrick Favors substituted, and Utah’s backup center was unable to knock Embiid out of his post spot or dispute his shots in any meaningful way. Other than tough stunt teams from a variety of angles, there doesn’t seem to be a strategy to prevent Embiid from getting the look he wants.
Once again, his strength and skill were an overwhelming combination. He should remain a serious MVP candidate all season long as long as he avoids serious injury. Through 30 games, he has averaged more than 30 points per contest.
As for Simmons, Embiid’s fellow All-Star pick, he had an efficient night, scoring 8 of his 11 field goals. Donovan Mitchell (33 points on 12-of-34 shooting) played well for much of the game against Simmons, getting into some open 3-pointers from effective ball screens and also just making some tough shots when Simmons stayed in front of him. and the Jazz were looking for something late on the shot clock.
Still, Simmons did an excellent job stopping Mitchell in the fourth quarter and into overtime. It is a great challenge to score against one against one.
Granting a great long-range advantage
The Jazz scored 39 more points behind the arc than the Sixers. Utah hit 21 of 44 3-pointers, while the Sixers hit 8 of 25.
Probably acknowledging that the Sixers weren’t having a good night from three-point range and that Embiid was thriving every time he had a 1-on-1 matchup, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder threw a zone defense possession at the second quarter. Embiid single-handedly beat him with a powerful baseline drive, converting a one-on-one layup.
Although Rivers said before the game that he is most concerned about the Sixers trying high-quality shots, not necessarily three, it’s obvious the team would benefit from making more long-range attempts, as long as they aren’t shooting tons of players of 27 feet much disputed. .
Embiid asked to shoot this offseason and got his wish when president of basketball operations Daryl Morey acquired Curry and Danny Green. While the Sixers may try to address their low-volume three-point problem internally, Morey will likely consider possible firing boosters before the March 25 trade deadline. Embiid himself said after the Sixers’ loss to the Pacers that the team needs to take more triples. Your opinion has a justified weight in the organization.
Green had three points on 1-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, a steal and a block. Not for the first time, Shake Milton was the logical choice to close out the game on the 33-year-old. Rivers also used Matisse Thybulle as a late-game defensive substitute.
Tobias Harris returned after a two-game absence due to a bruised right knee and recorded 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Although his midrange game was possibly a bit rusty at first, the most important thing is that he is healthy and should be available for important second-half games.
He was sharp and clutch during overtime, giving the Sixers eight key points in the post. His ability to score in isolation is invaluable, especially when the opponents’ entire focus is preventing Embiid from catching the ball.
The alignment of all banks is an interesting option
Even against the team with the best record in the NBA, Rivers figured the Sixers could keep the game close late in the first period and early in the second with a bench lineup. Although Furkan Korkmaz and Milton contributed a total of 12 points in the first half, that all-second unit approach didn’t work as the Sixers’ bench allowed Utah to extend their lead to 13 points.
In the second half of the season, we imagine Rivers will more regularly mix the minutes of his starters with those of his second unit. The circumstances would have to be quite unusual for the Sixers to use five bench players simultaneously in a playoff game, and therefore it is likely not worth not playing in such lineups often in competitive situations.
Dwight Howard had a tough opening minute on both sides of the ball, missing two shots near the rim and letting Gobert score an offensive rebound. Thybulle was Jordan Clarkson’s main defender, a smart move by Rivers that helped the Sixers limit the Sixth Man of the Year favorite to 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting, 30 less than he scored against the Sixers on May 15. February. Korkmaz’s dummy bomb allowed him to foul on a three-point shot and drain a long-range open attempt, although the Jazz took aim at it defensively at times.
Rivers stayed with the same lineup in the second half. That group fared better, thanks in part to a surprising sequence in which Howard made 13th three of his NBA career, then stole the ball from Gobert, knocked it to the ground and finally split a pair of free throws.
He blocked a shot from Conley on subsequent possession, leading to a Korkmaz basket on the other end. Unlikely, the Sixers had tied the game at 92 overall, and Rivers’ pattern of substitutions didn’t seem so ill-advised. A minute later, Mike Scott’s three from the right corner put the Sixers in front and gave the team’s starters (with Milton in Green’s place) a good chance to win the game.