Sixers soar, then stumble, and eventually survive against Lakers in overtime

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, center, goes up for a shot against Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers began a seven-game homestand Friday night with a game against Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers. Ahead of the match, much was made of the superstar showdown between Davis and the Sixers’ Joel Embiid.

Coming into the night, Davis was riding a hot streak that saw him average 31.9 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game over his last ten appearances. Joel Embiid, meanwhile, has averaged 34.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists over own last ten games — though it’s also been clear as of late that he had not been playing to his full potential.

Tonight would be different, however, as Embiid would come out of the gate firing, looking as engaged as ever en route to a dominant effort scoring 31 points — 20 of which were in the first quarter. The battle of the bigs looked to be one-sided as Anthony Davis quickly fell into foul trouble causing him to struggle to make a meaningful impact to begin the game. However, that would eventually change.

Despite the impressive early efforts of the team — namely Joel Embiid — the Lakers would continue to fight their way back into the game, beginning the second quarter on a 13-2 run (all while Embiid was off the court). The Sixers would lose the quarter by nine points. They would recover in the third, however, but reverted back to their sloppy play in the fourth as their see-saw of a night continued.

Entering the fourth quarter with a ten-point lead, the overall feeling was one of comfort for the Philadelphia 76ers. That sense of comfort lasted well into the quarter as well, until the Lakers began to make their run in the final two minutes of regulation.

Sixers nearly let a decisive win slip away

The Sixers had played the entire night unevenly, and even though the same could be said about the Lakers, the latter began to smell blood in the water and made the type of push that only a hungry team can. Ten points; that’s how large the Sixers’ lead was in the final two minutes, and yet, the Lakers’ closing lineup pushed back while the Sixers looked flustered — that being a kind way to put it.

Five turnovers in those final two minutes nearly — and frankly should have — doomed the Sixers’ chances in the game. The team’s focus just wasn’t there, and it nearly cost them the game time and time again.

With ten seconds left in the fourth quarter, as the Sixers led by just three, Matisse Thybulle committed the cardinal sin of bailing out the three-point shooter —— Austin Reaves — by fouling him, sending him to the line with a chance to tie the game. Reaves would go on to hit the first two but miss the third; however, the Lakers’ chances were not yet through.

Reaves’ missed free throw would go out of bounds off LA, forcing Philadelphia to inbound the ball under their own basket as the Sixers’ inexplicably burned their final timeout with still 30 seconds left in the game.

Foul-baiting to a fault

With a moment to seal the game when it should have gone to overtime, all the Sixers has to do was properly inbound the ball and hold to, and they would have been sent to the line to extend their lead over the Lakers. Instead, as Tobias Harris attempted to inbound to Joel Embiid, the Sixers’ star opted to attempt to draw a foul instead of securing the play — a frustrating common trend for this Sixers team.

We’ve seen this bite the Philadelphia 76ers time and time again over the years, but even more so in recent memory. Both Embiid and his co-star James Harden have far too often settled for an attempt at drawing a foul in the closing seconds of a game instead of actually looking to make a game-sealing play.

After failing to draw the foul, Anthony Davis would come up with the ball, driving towards the rim looking for a chance to steal one on the road. After successfully drawing contact — likely because he was attempting to make a play, not actively looking for a whistle — Davis would head to the line for two shots and a chance to seal the game.

Luck be a Sixer tonight

Through what can only be described as pure luck, Anthony Davis — like Austin Reaves — would miss a free throw in the final moments of the game, giving the Sixers a chance at overtime. Davis and Reaves have combined this season to shoot 87% from the free-throw line this season, so to each miss one with five total chances is borderline a miracle, one the Sixers promptly took advantage of.

The Sixers’ defense would come out stifling to begin overtime, not allowing a single point to the Lakers until the game was firmly decided. It was quite the turnaround to the team’s credit as they did what they do best, allowing their defense to take over the game.

Frankly put, the game was far closer than it needed to be, and that’s been an unsettling consistent trend as of late for Philadelphia. The team is now just 13-12 on the young season, and while there is still plenty of time to turn the season around, they cannot sit passively and dismiss their issues because it’s so early in the season.

The Sixers will next face the Charlotte Hornets this Sunday as their homestand continues. Anything short of a clear and confident victory will only further fan the flames of concern.