Joel Embiid Drops 23 as 76ers Rally Past Magic Without Injured Ben SimmonsAugust 8, 2020
The Philadelphia 76ers passed their biggest test of the NBA restart yet: defeating a playoff-caliber team without All-Star Ben Simmons.
In their first game since Simmons suffered a dislocated left kneecap, the Sixers took down the Orlando Magic 108-101 though their opponent was hardly at full strength either. Forward Aaron Gordon missed the contest with a hamstring injury, while guard Michael Carter-Williams sat out with an injured foot. That's on top of Orlando already playing without forward Jonathan Issac, who tore his ACL on Saturday.
Al Horford started in place of Simmons and tallied 21 points, nine rebounds and two assists.
The last time Philadelphia was forced to play without Simmons, the Sixers went 4-4, giving Friday's result some added weight.
Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers: 23 points, 13 rebounds, 1 assist
Tobias Harris, SF, Philadelphia 76ers: 23 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists
Alec Burks, SG, Philadelphia 76ers: 22 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Evan Fournier, SG, Orlando Magic: 22 points, 3 rebounds
Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic: 21 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists
Sixers Offense Stalls Without Simmons
It may take some time yet for Philadelphia to reach its maximum efficiency without Simmons in the lineup, yet Friday's performance offered some encouraging signs.
Joel Embiid was able to dominate the paint late after a rather disastrous first half, while Tobias Harris and Horford provided secondary scoring options.
There's still no denying how much the Sixers struggled, however.
Embiid couldn't find a rhythm early on and instead settled for jump shots well outside what he would normally take with Simmons on the floor. The forward went 3-for-8 shooting from the floor through the second quarter with just six points. Most of that was due to trying to play outside of the paint instead of attacking a weakened Orlando frontcourt.
The Kansas alum did much more of that in the second half to finish 7-for-18 from the floor and 9-for-13 at the free-throw line.
Before Simmons got hurt, Philadelphia was averaging 49.6 percent on field goals (40 percent from behind the arc) and averaging 120 points per game inside the NBA bubble.
On Friday, that went down to 40.9 percent, but the team only scored 12 points fewer than its restart average.
Considering the Magic are down three starters, it's not an encouraging sign. Still, head coach Brett Brown would much rather adjust his game plan following a win than a loss. Friday's result offers the chance to do so.
Orlando Balances Smaller Offense
The 76ers were just a bit too big for the Magic to hold back down the stretch. Once Embiid started to heat up in the third quarter, the absence of Gordon and Issac became apparent.
Even still, Orlando proved it'll be able to score well and can move the ball around on offense without needing to force any players in particular.
Four starters for the Magic recorded at least 14 points with Markelle Fultz adding another 13 points off the bench. Given Gordon and Issac average a combined 26.3 points per game, it's rather notable how well Orlando shared the ball.
Both Gordon and Carter-Williams should be ready to play again soon. Their status before Friday's action was considered day-to-day, and with a playoff run likely, both will still play a big role moving ahead. That their team was able to score only 17 points fewer than it averaged over its last four games in the bubble shows there's more to the offense than the frontcourt.
On Friday, it nearly took down a Philadelphia club desperate to prove it can play without arguably its biggest star.
Going forward that could be a problem for future opponents.
Orlando will have another opportunity to prepare for the postseason against a title contender with the Boston Celtics up next on Sunday, August 9 at 5 p.m. ET.
The Sixers schedule won't get much easier with a matchup against a surging Portland Trail Blazers squad next on Sunday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV.