It’s hard to say how good Magic fans should feel about beating the Sixers on a Tuesday night in November. On the one hand, the Sixers, despite The Process reviving in the form of Joel Embiid, are not a good basketball team, and preseason expectations dictated that Orlando should do better than a 2-point win. On the other hand, 1-3 looks a little bit better than 0-4. Despite falling behind by 18 points in the first half, Orlando used a 41-point third quarter to rally and steal the win in Philadelphia, 103-101. Nikola Vucevic led the team with a 24-14-4-1-1 line on the night, while his counterpart in Embiid scored 18 with 10 boards and 4 blocks.
The start of the game was another rough one, as the Magic quickly fell into a 10-0 hole. Behind the scoring of Vucevic and the unlikely passing of Aaron Gordon, they put together the first of what would be many necessary runs to tie the game at 18. Three point shooting would prove to be the difference early, with Philadelphia hitting 4 of 6 in the first, and the Magic hitting none of their 6 attempts. The Sixers pushed the lead back to 29-24 after 12 minutes.
It seems like every game the Magic have one really terrible quarter, and tonight that came in the second. Like those other collapses, the failures came on both ends of the court, as the bench failed to put down shots and the defense was porous. The Sixers shot 55% in the first half, a bad sign for an Orlando team that hoped to boost their defense by preventing more makes, especially around the rim, where Philly earned 22 points in the first half. A particular problem for the Magic throughout the game was the spacing and rebounding of Dario Saric, who paired up with Embiid to dominate from inside and out. At one point, Orlando trailed by 18 in the quarter before closing out the half down 57-43.
In their big third quarter rally, the Magic employed the bold strategy of “Make every single shot.” As it turned out, this plan was wildly effective (we’ll have to see if Vogel employs it moving forward). It wasn’t until 5 minutes left in the quarter that Orlando finally missed a shot, a 3-pointer from Gordon, but he quickly made up for it on the next trip down with a lob-and-1. Those 11 consecutive makes, with a few free throws added for good measure, brought the Magic within 2 points. Unfortunately, the offensive surge masked what continued to be a poor defensive effort from the Magic, as the Sixers were at one point 10-13 from the field in the quarter. They pushed the lead back to 9, but yet another Magic scoring burst tied score with a minute left. They settled for a small deficit at the end, trailing just 87-84.
The bench unit that ended the third quarter and started the fourth was totally out of sorts, allowing more open shots from the Sixers, committing fouls, and utterly unable to make a shot. One extremely frustrating possession early in the quarter encapsulated the season so far, as the Magic had seemingly infinite opportunities to sink a jumper, with Biyombo grabbing board after board to provide those second chances. They came up empty on the possession. After four minutes, Orlando had not scored, and the Sixers pushed their lead to 10.
As the starters filtered in again, however, the Magic rallied once more, pulling within 1 before trading blows the rest of the way. As has been their undoing many times this season, the Magic seemed to get tight, unable to find good looks. Still, they did enough on the defensive end to keep the Sixers contained as well, and with under a minute left, they finally tied the game. That led to the wild ending sequence, which started with a Payton steal on Embiid. Out of the timeout, the Magic lost control soon after the inbounds, but the ball found its way to Ibaka by the basket. McConnell grabbed Ibaka by the shoulder and pulled him all the way to the floor to prevent the layup and was assessed a flagrant foul. Ibaka’s 2 makes at the line sealed the deal and completed the comeback.