3 observations after Sixers' second-half comeback to beat Magic


The Magic have certainly made the Sixers work for their two victories over Orlando this season.

As they did in a late November win against the Magic, the Sixers overcame mid-game struggles Wednesday night. The team extended its winning streak to five games with a 116-106 victory at Amway Center, improving to 21-16. Orlando dropped to 7-32. 

Joel Embiid recorded 31 points. Seth Curry had 20 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. Tobias Harris posted 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

Cole Anthony led Orlando with 26 points and seven assists.

Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Jaden Springer and Paul Reed were out because of health and safety protocols. Shake Milton (back contusion) was sidelined, too. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers cleared COVID-19 protocols before the game. 

Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Isaac were among the injured players for the Magic. 

The Sixers will play the Spurs on Friday night in Philadelphia. Here are observations on the team's win Wednesday: 

Harris works to get back on track 

In the midst of a much-scrutinized stretch of frustration, Harris tried to open the game in attack mode. It just didn’t work.

He missed his first three field goals, coming up empty on a running hook shot, an open catch-and-shoot three-pointer and a reverse layup that Mo Bamba blocked. The Magic grabbed a quick 10-2 lead and were up 22-14 when the Sixers turned to their bench.

Harris wasn’t the lone reason for the early deficit. The Sixers played loose perimeter defense and allowed Orlando to beat them to loose balls and rebounds. Nine of the game’s first 11 boards went to the Magic.


To Harris’ credit, he fired away on the first shot available during his second stint, knocking down a three from the left wing. The jumper ended an 0-for-12 drought from long distance. Harris then made a few positive plays as the Sixers’ primary offensive option next to second-unit players, scoring a driving finger roll and finding Andre Drummond for a bucket off of a pick-and-roll. 

The Sixers are a worse team when Harris isn’t accepting open looks, since that exacerbates his inclination for dallying with the ball in his hands and draining the rhythm from possessions. He’s right to keep shooting through the slumps, though the fact that he doesn’t draw free throws consistently means that cold spells from the floor tend to hurt. 

Harris’ play after halftime was a bit less convincing, though he made a big pick-and-pop three at the end of the third quarter to cut Orlando’s lead to 89-88. 

After the game, Harris discussed Monday's back and forth with booing Sixers fans. 

“It was obviously frustration," he told reporters in Orlando. “I understand that our fanbase boos at times. They also cheer for us louder than anybody. I don’t want nobody to get it twisted; I love our fanbase. I love the excitement coming into Wells Fargo (Center). I know they are our sixth man and help us.

“I also know with praise, you have to be willing to take criticism as well. At that point I was completely frustrated. It was just one of those things. But something I learned from it is to keep the cool all the way around and keep being who I am.

“I’ve had an up-and-down year for myself thus far, but I don’t think anybody in that arena is harder on me than I am on myself. ... And I will get to the point where I’m playing the type of basketball that I’m comfortable with. Tonight was a good step in that direction, and that’s what it’s about. Everyone goes through rough patches in their careers. But for me I look at it like, when I get up out of this, this is going to be a good story to tell people of resilience, and just fighting through and finding your rhythm and balance all the way around.”

Embiid not his best but hard to handle 

Furkan Korkmaz and Curry were the Sixers’ two main ball handlers for a second straight game. 

Curry was hot in the opening quarter, recording 11 points and making all three of his three-point tries.

Korkmaz missed 8 of his 10 first-half field goals, though he continued letting it fly and scored 10 points in the third quarter. 

Embiid picked up his second foul late in the first period but didn’t have any problems on that front the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Magic big men Wendell Carter Jr. and Freddie Gillespie had three fouls apiece at halftime. It’s routine at this point for Embiid to exploit massive advantages in strength and skill. He piles up points without much apparent effort.


On a negative note with Embiid, this was a relatively poor game for him as a passer. He committed six turnovers and threw several passes that were either too ambitious or too casual. 

It also wasn’t among Embiid’s better evenings as a rim protector, although his teammates placed him in difficult positions often. It was telling that the Sixers played some zone defense possessions beginning late in the second period. Through 37 games, we think it’s fair to say the Sixers haven’t been good at containing the ball and preventing dribble penetration. The team’s defense has been middling overall without Ben Simmons (15th in defensive rating heading into Wednesday’s game, per Cleaning the Glass).

The Sixers didn't need Embiid to be heroic in the fourth quarter, in large part because Drummond (12 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals) had a strong outing.

Embiid did help seal the win with a great block from behind of an Anthony layup, which led to a Curry and-one that stretched the Sixers' edge to 114-106 with 1:23 to go.

Big guys share the floor 

Because of the aforementioned COVID-related absences and injuries, Drummond and Georges Niang were the only regulars available on the Sixers’ bench.

The two other players who appeared in Rivers’ nine-man rotation were Isaiah Joe and Myles Powell. Joe made a deep three-pointer and took a charge on RJ Hampton in transition, though he conceded a few jumpers to veteran scorer Terrence Ross.

Joe was officially ruled out for the night early in the third quarter with what a Sixers official called “back of right leg soreness.”

Powell’s two second-quarter minutes were eventful. He fouled Anthony on a three and was then assessed a Flagrant 1 after an officials’ review which showed below-the-belt contact. The rookie later allowed Anthony to sink a three when he went under a Bamba ball screen. 

The most interesting rotation development was that Rivers used Embiid and Drummond together late in the third quarter. It wasn't disastrous at all as the Sixers kept cutting into a Magic advantage as high as 11 points. 

We still imagine that Drummond-Embiid lineups will be reserved for unique situations. For instance, both were on the court when the Sixers needed an offensive rebound in the final seconds of overtime against the Timberwolves. It would be surprising to see Rivers play the duo frequently under normal circumstances.