Though the Sixers’ winning streak was bound to end at some stage, it finished in dismal fashion Monday night.
The team blew a 21-point lead at home to the Magic and fell to a 119-109 loss.
With their seven-game streak over, the Sixers are 32-17. Orlando is 20-31.
No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero posted 29 points and 10 rebounds in his first professional game in Philadelphia. Joel Embiid's 30 points and 11 boards led the Sixers.
Playing his first game at Wells Fargo Center since being traded from the Sixers in February of 2019, Markelle Fultz posted 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting, 10 assists and four steals.
The Sixers will take on Orlando again Wednesday night. Here are observations on their loss Monday:
Orlando’s early nightmare
The Magic’s first seven minutes or so were truly nightmarish.
A James Harden mid-range make and Embiid and-one runner helped the Sixers grab an 8-0 lead. Meanwhile, the Magic relied on jumpers and missed nearly all of them. Fultz scored Orlando’s first four points. His teammates combined to begin 0 for 13 from the floor.
Embiid lived with Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Wagner three-point attempts. In the paint, he was explosive and imposing. After rejecting a Franz Wagner layup, Embiid leaped high to secure a Harden lob and score inside. De’Anthony Melton’s fast-break layup gave the Sixers a 21-4 lead.
The start of Monday’s game was a reminder that facing Embiid (and the Sixers in general) can be a bit intimidating. The young Magic have earned wins against strong opposition this season, including three over the Celtics, but they didn’t seem at all eager to attack the paint in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Sixers sought out contact early, drew the game’s first eight free throws, and made seven of them.
Back to the all-bench unit
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers returned to his preferred substitution pattern for Embiid.
He’d used Embiid in shorter first-half stints during Saturday’s win over the Nuggets. However, Rivers said pregame that he didn’t like that rotation against Denver but had to make things work with Embiid fatigued. Ultimately, the NBA’s leading scorer played Monday for a third straight game despite again being listed as questionable with left foot soreness. And, instead of subbing out in the middle of the first quarter, Embiid played the night’s first 10 minutes.
That corresponded with an extended run for the Sixers’ all-bench crew late in the first and early in the second quarter. Initially, the second unit looked disjointed offensively. Tyrese Maxey air-balled a three-point attempt over Bol Bol and Shake Milton tossed a couple of wayward passes. The Sixers’ bench found a better groove soon enough, though, and Matisse Thybulle notched a third consecutive multi-steal game. Thybulle also made a corner three when Georges Niang threw him an “extra” pass instead of shooting an open look from the wing.
One interesting departure from the norm was Rivers subbing Paul Reed in for Embiid with 55.3 seconds left in the second quarter. Reed hadn’t appeared since a nice performance (with Embiid sitting) in the Sixers’ Jan. 21 win over the Kings, but he got a brief run Monday. Perhaps Embiid’s two first-half fouls were a factor. Rivers stuck with Montrezl Harrell as Embiid’s main backup in the second half.
Dramatic dip in level
Despite their abysmal start and Embiid often scoring with ease in the first half, the Magic didn’t let the Sixers cruise to a blowout win.
Fultz pushed the pace, kept his dribble alive smartly, and found his teammates frequently late in the second quarter. And, though the Sixers built their lead back up to 18 points early in the third quarter, Banchero and Franz Wagner didn’t lose steam. Gary Harris snuck in to steal the ball from Embiid, creating a fast break that finished with an easy Carter put-back hoop and cut the Sixers’ edge to 73-66.
Rivers called timeout and inserted Maxey, who scored his first points on a hanging layup late in the shot clock. That basket didn’t suddenly restore the Sixers’ superiority, though. Thanks to the Magic’s impressive shotmaking and scrappiness along with a huge dip in level from the Sixers, Orlando ended the third quarter on a 42-20 run and improbably led by four points entering the fourth. Boos from the home crowd were noticeable late in the third when Harris picked up a loose offensive rebound and then drained a three.
The Sixers retook the lead early in the fourth on a three from Thybulle, who posted 10 points in his 11 minutes. More playing time for Thybulle would've certainly been warranted Monday.
Embiid returned with the game tied and sunk a mid-range jumper on his first touch. On the surface, the Sixers had the game in a decent place even after a horrid third quarter.
That feeling soon shifted when Embiid picked up three quick fouls. Rivers challenged the final one with 6:42 to go, hoping the officials would determine Mo Wagner had charged into Embiid, but the call stood. In addition to the foul calls, Embiid was frustrated by the Magic's physicality, active hands, and well-choreographed help defense. His decision-making sometimes wasn't sharp, but Orlando didn't give Embiid easy choices or grant him much space overall in the second half. Mo Wagner scored 22 points off the bench and went 10 for 10 at the foul line, too.
Embiid stayed in with five fouls and the Sixers moved to zone, but the team's deficit grew to 109-101 when Harden missed inside through contact and Cole Anthony then made a transition three. The Sixers could not summon a turnaround and will have to settle for seeking immediate revenge Wednesday.