This game was always going to go one of two ways. Ahead of a contest with arguably the best team in the conference on Saturday, the 76ers clashed with the previously 11-9 Portland Trailblazers. They just so happened to be missing just about everyone while the Sixers were in the second game of a back to back. Surely it made sense to rest Embiid and coast to a win against the 29th ranked defense….surely.
First rule of thumb: never call me Shirley.
Second rule of thumb: Always expect the unexpected when it comes to the Sixers.
It was announced before the game that the team would be without Ben Simmons and it wasn’t until Portland started draining threes like their life depended on it that it really clicked as to just how much impact Simmons has on this team defensively.
The Trailblazers thumped the Sixers to the beat of 121-105 on Thursday night. They knocked down 13 of 31 three-point attempts in a game where it was the Sixers who were supposed to be delivering the onslaught from beyond the arc. There was no Nurkic tonight. No McCollum, no Damian Lillard. This team was a shell of what it’s supposed to be and without Simmons, the Sixers simply couldn’t hang.
Joel Embiid ended up playing in 34 minutes tonight. A scary non-contact moment early on had fans panicking and re-iterating the fact he wasn’t needed…but without him, it would’ve been a total mess. Embiid became the glue holding the team together. He broke a franchise record for most points scored in a single quarter (25) and at halftime, his 31 points accounted for over half of the team’s total (57). This was a prime opportunity to rest Embiid and instead, he became the focal point of everything because the rest of the offense fell apart.
It took 12 team attempts and 2.5 quarters for somebody to finally hit a three. Danny Green was the man to break the slump, but it was too little too late. By then the sloppy play, confusing turnovers, and forced passes to Embiid in the paint had all but kicked the 76ers into their own Coffin.
While Gary Trent Jr. and Carmelo Anthony were balling out like they were the 2015 Steph and Klay tandem, the Sixers lacked offensive identity without Simmons to facilitate it. Tobias Harris, someone who has thrived over the past month, was held to 12 points and 11 rebounds in a game where the Sixers really need him, or anyone to step up and not only negate the absence of Simmons but take the pressure off of Embiid who was having to put the team on his back.
It was a game to forget for the 76ers, who still sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. Was this bubble bursting loss ahead of a showdown with the Nets a blessing or a curse? There’s only one way to find out.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire