A Wednesday night showdown in Philadelphia ultimately delivered something special, despite the lopsided nature of the final result. Joel Embiid and Mo Bamba put on a collective show, combining for 82 points and fueling their respective sides for significant stretches. Unfortunately for Magic fans Big Mo’s first half was ultimately undone by the combination of Embiid’s individual brilliance and outside shooting from his support crew, Orlando falling 123-110 after a disastrous second half.
Philadelphia signaled their intentions early, getting the ball to Embiid on their first three halfcourt possessions and letting the All-Star big man go to work against Bamba. It resulted in three straight buckets, the first two on power moves at the rim and then capped by a sweet mid-range jumper. He went on to score 12 of his team’s first 14 points, a rate that Bamba was actually close to matching at the other end. Courtesy of a locked-in long-range radar, Orlando’s fourth-year big had 8 points of his own, a pair of threes and a hard-fought put-back helping the Magic stay in touch, trailing just 14-12 at the quarter’s mid-point despite Embiid’s early brilliance.
Embiid continued to do everything for the Sixers, getting the next 8 for Philadelphia as he took his personal tally to 20 of the team’s 22 points. Three-point makes to Franz Wagner and Gary Harris kept it close, however, as did the fact that non-Embiid Sixers combined to shoot just 2-11 from the floor in the first period. Despite shooting just 30.4% from the floor and watching the opposing center dominate the period, Orlando went into quarter-time trailing just 25-21.
It looked like Philadelphia was beginning to take control across the opening minutes of the second, Tobias Harris finding a rhythm and helping to push the Sixers to a nine-point advantage. However, the Magic were able to stay in it courtesy of the three-ball, Chuma Okeke knocking down a pair and Bamba drilling his third of the contest. When Mo confidently stepped into and drained a 20-foot mid-ranger Orlando were back within single point, the score standing at 38-37 as the teams went to a time-out.
Bamba and Embiid continued their hot starts as the game wound towards halftime, but it was Orlando’s big man who was ultimately able to take the game by the scruff. He dominated both ends of the court over the next five minutes, pouring in four more three-pointers (and tying a franchise record for threes in a quarter – 5) on his way to a career-high 28 points in just 18 minutes of court time. Even more impressively, he completely shut down the Sixers offense, swatting shots on three consecutive possessions, including one that swiftly led to a Wagner slam in transition. When the dust settled he had spearheaded a 14-3 run to close the quarter, the Magic now up 57-47 courtesy of Bamba’s sublime first half.
A 7-0 Sixers run to open the third erased much of Orlando’s cushion, with poor shot selection and impatient decision-making hurting the team’s chances. Some incisive drives by Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony settled things momentarily, but Philadelphia hit their third three-pointer of the period to reclaim the lead, going up 64-63 and forcing the Magic to retreat to a time out.
Orlando finally got their hot hand a second-half look, finding Bamba on a roll that he finished to push his personal tally to 30. They also continued to take advantage of some sloppy Philadelphia defense in transition, Suggs getting a pair of buckets when his direct opponent failed to match up. It allowed them to briefly re-gain a lead at 70-69, but some cold shooting from Anthony allowed the Sixers to capitalize and rattle off an Embiid-inspired 7-0 burst.
Philadelphia continued their Embiid and long-range onslaught, the two factors coalescing with an Embiid step-back from the top of the arc that pushed the deficit to a dozen with less than a minute remaining in the quarter. Another Orlando turnover, this one a sloppy pass by Anthony, gifted Tyrese Maxey a flush at the other end, the Sixers eventually doubling the Magic up in the quarter, outscoring them 47-23 as they took a commanding 94-80 lead into the game’s final twelve minutes.
The Sixers’ dominance continued in the fourth, Orlando struggling to contain the interior play of Andre Drummond and the general fluidity of Tobias Harris. Philadelphia started the period on a 16-6 run, opening up a lead of more than 20 points that effectively ended the contest. Any intrigue remaining was really only in relation to career-bests – how would the center showdown finish? Fittingly, it closed with Embiid drawing another shooting foul on Bamba, sending the Magic big man to the bench with his sixth foul and a career-high 32 points as Philadelphia’s star knocked down 1 of 2 free-throws to match his existing high of 50. The teams ultimately played out the string over the final few minutes, the major concern for the Magic being a nasty looking fall suffered by RJ Hampton. Let’s hope he’s okay.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Mo Bamba — good grief, that first half was something else. He finished with 32 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks, as well as a mark of 7-8 from deep (all in the first half). It was the most prolific long-range shooting performance by an Orlando center ever.
Second star: Chuma Okeke — 5-6 from deep was the cleanest the second-year forward’s shooting stroke has looked all season. Hopefully this marks the beginning of a better stretch for Big Chum.
Third star: Franz Wagner — was active on the glass and a threat with the ball in hand all night long, even if he continued to struggle with his shooting accuracy. Perhaps most pleasingly, no turnovers.
The loss marks three in a row for the Magic, who now return home for a much-needed five-game home-stand. They’ll kick that off on Friday with a showdown against LeBron and the Lakers.