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76ers 116, Magic 106: Embiid proves a handful as the Magic fall in a physical contest

Four 20-plus point scorers for the Sixers was ultimately too much for the Magic to overcome

Philadelphia 76ers v Orlando Magic

Returning home after two tight road losses, the Magic were looking to end their current skid with a win over the visiting Sixers. Buoyed by both Cole Anthony’s reinsertion into the starting lineup and their home court they started fast but faded late, ultimately dropping the game when their fourth-quarter finishing sputtered.

The Magic began the game hot from deep, nailing outside looks on their first two possessions. They then fought their way to three offensive rebounds on the next trip, ending the sequence with a pair of free throws to Wendell Carter Jr. When Franz Wagner threw down a transition slam just seconds later it was 10-2 Orlando’s way, an energetic effort allowing them to build an early advantage.

The frenetic pace continued across the first quarter. On a couple of occasions the Magic were able to turn defense into offense, with Franz Wagner finding Cole Anthony for a beautiful gliding finish at the hoop that put Orlando up 18-11. Wagner also had his sublime footwork on display, bamboozling Joel Embiid and the Philly defense on his way to a finish at the rack. However, after a sluggish start on the scoreboard the Sixers turned to Embiid, who powered his way to 8 quick points in the quarter, putting both Carter Jr. and Bamba into early foul trouble (2 apiece).

Coming out of a time out, Philadelphia found their mark from distance, knocking down triples on three straight possessions to surge to a 29-26 lead. Terrence Ross made a pair from the mid-range to keep Orlando in touch before drilling a huge pull-up three to knot the score once more. This is where it would end as the quarter-time siren sounded, the two teams tied at 33 apiece at the end of an entertaining period.

The Magic continued to attack the paint in the second, Ross driving into space for a layup before a Freddie Gillespie swat fueled another fastbreak finish for Anthony. The returning guard got an incredibly deep three to drop on the next possession, Jamahl Mosley’s decision to inject Anthony and Wagner back into the game at this early juncture paying immediate dividends. The team continued to add to the small cushion they had established after a low-blow against Anthony was assessed a flagrant, the lead growing to 7 when Ross hit Bamba with a no-look pass for an uncontested dunk.

Trailing 49-42 the Sixers re-inserted Embiid and Seth Curry, the pair combining with Tobias Harris to rattle off 10 straight points as they reclaimed the lead. The Magic were able to quickly regroup, settling down some of their more hectic offensive possessions and finding baskets to largely match what Philadelphia was generating at the other end. If not for Embiid’s immense physicality they may have been able to again tie it up – instead, Embiid continued to draw fouls and get to the free throw line, the Magic with 15 total fouls in the half including 3 apiece to Carter Jr., Bamba, Gillespie and RJ Hampton. The All-Star big man was the primary difference to this point of the contest, the Magic trailing 62-59 at the main break.

It was a balanced first half effort by Orlando, with three players in double-figures and three more just a bucket away. Anthony was leading the way in his return, with 14 points and 5 assists on efficient numbers. Carter Jr. was prominent with his 9 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists, Ross’ 11 quick points off the bench were especially valuable considering no other reserve had scored. The team’s collective 11 turnovers and 15 fouls would need to be addressed in the second half, as would the team’s plan to contain Embiid.

An early Bamba three allowed the Magic to wrest back the lead, which Anthony added to with a tightly contested triple of his own after coming around a screen from his big man. Unfortunately he landed awkwardly after the shot, rolling his left ankle over on Bamba’s heel after the pair got tangled. With Orlando up 67-62 the dynamic guard was helped to the bench before eventually retreating to the locker room under his own power.

With a key option missing Orlando reinforced their early game-plan, with a commitment to dribble penetration evident on most possessions. First Wagner and Harris both got driving layups to go, a soft Carter Jr. three-footer capping a 14-2 run to open the quarter.

A Wagner ankle roll threatened to sap the team’s momentum, but the team came out of the ensuing time out with a nice alley-oop to Bamba that he flushed home for an and-one. The Magic were suddenly up double-figures, leading 76-66 and continuing to frustrate the 76ers with their energetic defense. Carter Jr. and Ross helped to push it a little further by continuing the aggressive play, an under-strength outfit finding ways to make things happen no matter who was missing from the rotation.

A patiently built 9-0 run by the Sixers cut the margin to just two, but the Magic temporarily steadied behind another Ross three-pointer. Philly used another 4 point burst to get back within one as Anthony returned to the contest, Chuma Okeke’s first bucket on the next possession creating a little breathing room as the quarter wound down. The teams then traded free-throws in the final minute before a late triple to Philadelphia’s Harris brought the 76ers back within a point, the Magic nursing a slender 89-88 lead at the end of the third.

The Sixers started the final quarter the sharper outfit, scoring on their first three possessions as part of a quick 7-2 run. Things became a little more skittish at that point, the two teams failing to protect the ball and launching some ill-advised shots as scoring slowed down over a three minute stretch. With 7:16 to play the Magic called time out, hoping for a spark by re-inserting most of their starters – including a returned Wagner.

Only moments after returning both Bamba and Carter Jr. picked up their fifth fouls in awkward fashion, adding an extra layer of tension to proceedings. An 8-0 burst by the Sixers dropped the Magic in a 105-94 hole, the team’s 3-11 shooting in the period speaking to the offensive futility that was sinking the side’s chances.

As they had for much of the night, Anthony, Wagner and Bamba continued to fight for the Magic. Their efforts clawed the side back into the contest, the trio combining on one sequence to steal a rebound away from Embiid that resulted in a transition three to Franz at the other end. Bamba then grappled for an offensive rebound that extended a possession and ended with Anthony dropping in a soft floater.

A flagrant foul by Embiid threatened to alter the contest’s trajectory, but Carter Jr. unfortunately missed the ensuing free throws. It allowed Philadelphia to maintain a three-point advantage even after Anthony drilled another jumper, a margin they extended to eight after Curry poured in five rapid-fire points. Ross saw a three-point attempt rattle out on the next possession, a miss that ultimately decided the outcome. The team’s 30th personal foul – a season high – allowed Philly to push the margin to double-digits at the free-throw line, the final score settling at 116-106.

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: Cole Anthony — was fantastic in his return from injury, even after sustaining a knock to the other ankle in the second half. Finished with 26 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds, generating a number of impressive buckets that helped the Magic keep pace for most of the night.

Second star: Mo Bamba — a season high 19 points for the big man, who also racked up 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks along the way. Most importantly his motor was good all night, particularly in the fourth quarter when his efforts gave the Magic a sniff of an upset.

Third star: Terrence Ross — had 18 of the team’s 24 bench points, providing a much-needed offensive burst during a handful of sequences when the game threatened to slip away.

A familiar result for the Magic in this one, with an admirable effort ultimately resulting in a hard-fought loss. In dropping their seventh straight they fall to 7-32 on the season, an intriguing clash against the Pistons next on the slate this Saturday.