The 76ers have put themselves in a difficult position to win several times this season. Against Memphis, it seemed like the hole they dug themselves was too deep to climb out of, and their All-Star center was completely flustered for most of the game. How did the Sixers manage to come back?
Joel Embiid was considered probable before the game against Memphis because of a non-Covid illness. Some Sixers fans wondered if his status had anything to do with him playing in the All-Star game. Why the skepticism? Well, for almost the entire game Embiid could not find a rhythm, and he seemed to lack energy and focus. Throughout the first three quarters, he missed shots from the outside and inside. From the baseline and the foul line. He could not find a bucket even if someone handed it to him.
The saving grace for the Sixers was a player who should’ve been an All-Star, James Harden. The veteran point guard was meticulous with his spots on the floor to score or create for teammates. He knocked down three-pointers and was able to contribute seven assists during the game.
Joel Embiid was not the only player who struggled in the first half. Ja Morant, the Grizzlies All-Star point guard and sensational dunker, could not get into a rhythm either. It wasn’t as much as what the Sixers did on defense, but it was rather his teammate, having a hot hand in the first half.
Desmond Bane is the biggest reason why the Sixers got down early. The sharp-shooting guard could not miss. In the first quarter, he was 4-for-5 from beyond on the arc. Another Grizzly who punished the Sixers all night was Jaren Jackson, Jr., particularly on the defensive end.
A surprise All-Star this season, Jackson, Jr. gave Joel Embiid a taste of his own medicine. Several times throughout the game, Jackson Jr. flustered the Sixers center and even blocked his shot. Other Sixers players also learned the hard way that Jaren Jackson Jr. is Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason. In the second half, Tyrese Maxey, despite a ridiculous burst of speed on a fast break, had his layup blocked at the last second from Jackson Jr.
Then, the Sixers started their rally. It was in the fourth quarter when Doc Rivers decided to stay with Embiid despite his sluggish and inconsistent play. Tobias Harris, having himself a quiet game, came to life with some key baskets to help close the gap.
Despite having a balanced bench attack, Memphis started missing shots, while Tyrese Maxey gave the Sixers a jolt of offense. After Maxey made several layups in transition, Memphis called time out. Then, Ja Morant responded.
The Memphis point guard started attacking the rim and converted on several buckets. He had a really nice dish down low to one of his bigs for a layup that secured their lead for the moment.
As the Sixers pulled within a few points, James Harden showed us even more reason why he deserved to be an All-Star. He drove to the basket and scored on tough layups. On one play, while the shot clock was winding down, he hit a ridiculous corner 3-pointer to cut the lead even more.
As if the drama on offense wasn’t enough, Ja Morant took matters into his own hands and tried to posterize Joel Embiid on a dunk. Mistake. The Sixers’ top rim protector, who had six blocks in the game, thwarted the high-flying Morant, keeping the Sixers in the game.
On the other end, Embiid hit a critical jumper to give Philly fans hope. Then, Tobias Harris caught a pass at the 3-point line, pulled up and swished the shot that ultimately secured them an unfathomable come-back victory.
It was not the most ideal way to win after coming out of the All-Star break, but with the standings being so tight in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers will take every win they can get the rest of the way.
The Sixers take on the Boston Celtics at home this Saturday for a nationally televised game.
AP Photo/Jason DeCrow