Matt Haughton

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Joel Embiid unlocks 'unguardable' level

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Joel Embiid unlocks 'unguardable' level

Much like the rest of the Sixers, Joel Embiid got off to a slow start Saturday night. He had four points on 2 of 6 shooting and was a minus-13 in the first quarter.

“We started off the game pretty bad,” Embiid said after the Sixers’ 116-115 win over the Orlando Magic. “At one point, I think we were down 16.”

That’s right, but you knew the big fella wouldn’t be held down for long. Whether it was just finding a rhythm or getting amped up by going against his protege Mo Bamba, Embiid started rolling after the opening period.

He torched the Magic in just about every way imaginable. There were the bully ball post moves, the sweet midrange jumpers, one highlight-reel Euro step and even a few threes.

“That was good because I wouldn’t have shot any threes for the rest of the season if I didn’t make one today, but I’m glad I did,” said Embiid, who finished with 32 points, 10 boards and three assists. “It opened up my game and I feel like that’s where I always talk about being unguardable, unstoppable, but making threes just takes you to another level. It is something that I have to focus on. I’ve been focusing on it for the past few days. It is something that I have to keep focusing on because it makes me really unguardable.”

However, Embiid put up a zero in one category that truly makes him dominant: turnovers. The All-Star has struggled with giveaways throughout his young career, but he became the first Sixer since GM Elton Brand in 2011 to have at least 30 points and 10 boards without a turnover.

“A lot of people just think I’m a big man, but I’m a basketball player,” Embiid said. “I am able to do everything that a basketball player can do. From playmaking and scoring to just passing the ball and just being a leader and post presence.”

Closing time for McConnell
With the game hanging in the balance and primary ball-handler Ben Simmons sidelined by back tightness, Brett Brown had a decision to make. Would the head coach put the ball in Markelle Fultz’s hands and give the 20-year-old a critical learning experience? Or would Brown go for the comfort and energy of handing T.J. McConnell the keys?

Brown chose the latter as McConnell finished off the game at point guard for the Sixers.

“Just T.J’s experience,” Brown said of why he picked McConnell. “You get to a stage going into the fourth like, ‘How are you going to sub that? How are you going to play that out? So immediately I probably shrunk it down to that type of rotation. You saw you try to manipulate it where you can get Joel a good rest and JJ (Redick) a rest but then end back with that group. Markelle was a part of that. Then T.J. coming back in, that was my plan for that reason.”

Quotable
“I thought, ‘Oh my god. I hope that won’t go in.’”

-Dario Saric on Terrence Ross’ 42-foot rainbow to give Orlando the lead with 1:24 remaining in the game

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

JJ Redick connects on 8 3-pointers as Sixers fend off Magic

JJ Redick connects on 8 3-pointers as Sixers fend off Magic

BOX SCORE

If you’ve ever ventured into the jungle known as social media, you know there is always a critic waiting to have their latest opinion go viral.

“One of the things that I try to stress to young guys is just to sort of ignore the noise,” Sixers guard JJ Redick said. “We live in a day and age where people are making judgment calls on 20-year-old players and deciding whether or not they’re a bust at 22 or 21.”

If Redick listened to the evaluators when he was just starting out in the NBA, he would have heard plenty about simply being a shooter and how his lack of athleticism and defense would hold him back.

Instead, here we are 13 years in and Redick is still proving those so-called experts wrong.

The latest example was in the Sixers’ 116-115 win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night when Redick poured in 31 points that included the deciding three-pointer with 17.0 seconds remaining in the game (see observations).

“I think I’ve tried every year I’ve been in the league to work on my craft both from a skill perspective and on my body,” said Redick, who shot 10 of 20 from the field. “There’s not really any magical secret to it. It’s just sort of the analogy of putting in daily work and you get drops in a bucket and eventually your bucket’s pretty full and you have a good base to play with.”

Which is why Redick is the perfect player for the man who replaced him in the Sixers’ starting lineup — Markelle Fultz — to learn from.

Redick has gone through it all during his time in the NBA. He’s been a reserve to an every-night starter and now back to the bench. He’s averaged eight minutes a game to over 30. He’s been relegated to spot-up shooting to a focal point of an offense.

Yet, he’s sharpened his dominant skills and added different pieces along the way that allowed him to achieve longevity in a business that can’t wait to chew you up and spit you out (ask Fultz about that). 

And he’s not just hanging on. The 34-year-old Redick remains a threat just like Saturday night when he ripped out the heart of his former team with eight threes, the final one coming in elbow action alongside Joel Embiid with the Sixers looking like they might blow a very winnable game.

“JJ Redick was our bell ringer tonight,” head coach Brett Brown said. “I thought Joel was exceptional as well, but we needed every bit of JJ Redick tonight to find a way to get out of this building with a win.”

There’s no denying that. With Fultz still struggling to find his way and Ben Simmons sidelined with a back injury, Redick’s offense was pivotal.

Even Embiid, who racked up another monster double-double with 32 points and 10 rebounds, was willing to acknowledge just how much the Sixers needed his tag-team partner in Redick.

“I love playing with him. I told him the other day that he was the best player I’ve ever played with just because we understand each other so well,” Embiid said of Redick. “I’m able to get him open. When it comes to sharing the ball, I know that when I’m gonna set the screen or hand it off, I know I’m gonna be happy with the outcome.

“I was telling him the other day that I wish he was 24 years old, so we could be here for 10, 15 years. But he’s old as s---, so he won’t be here for long.”

More on the Sixers

Sixers 116, Magic 115: Big efforts help team survive a scare at home

Sixers 116, Magic 115: Big efforts help team survive a scare at home

BOX SCORE

It took more than a little magic in this one.

JJ Redick hit one of his eight three-pointers with 17.0 seconds remaining to give the Sixers a 116-115 win Saturday over the Orlando Magic. The Sixers improved to 2-1 with the victory.

Which Sixers duo continues to do damage? What mistake does Markelle Fultz keep making on the court? We dive into it all in our observations.

• It’s becoming clear that the Sixers’ defense needs to set a reminder for game time each night. 

After allowing the Chicago Bulls to score 41 points (60.7 percent shooting from the field and 55.6 percent from three-point range) in the first quarter on Thursday, things started just as bad on the defensive end Saturday night.

The Magic scorched the nets for 32 points on 59.1 percent field goal shooting and 62.5 percent three-point shooting in the first quarter.

The Sixers are good enough to overcome those slow starts against teams like the Magic and Bulls, but that won’t always be the case against stiffer competition.

• Markelle Fultz being elevated to the Sixers’ starting lineup has robbed us a little bit of one of the NBA’s best two-man games. Joel Embiid and Redick play so well off one another, you would think they’ve been doing it for five years.

Embiid was Redick’s best two-man partner a season ago as the pair was plus-12.6 points per 100 possessions.

They had their rhythm clicking again on Saturday as Embiid and Redick literally ran circles around the Magic with their horns/curls actions. 

Embiid finished the night with with 32 points and 10 boards, while Redick poured in 31 points with four rebounds and four assists. The duo combined to hit 11 of the Sixers' 17 makes from long range.

• As for Fultz, it was another up-and-down showing for the guard. 

He did get an opportunity to be the Sixers’ primary ball-handler with Simmons sidelined by a back injury (see story) and looked a bit more comfortable in that role.

However, it was one situation that the second-year guard constantly put himself in that had to drive Brett Brown crazy: fouling shooters. Fultz fouled several players in the act of shooting, including a pair from three-point range.

That simply can’t happen.

• T.J. McConnell is going to get a hefty raise next season.

McConnell, in the final year of his contract with the Sixers worth $1.6 million, continues to open eyes with his play. The spark plug provided the sluggish team with a much-needed boost in the first quarter to get back in the game.

McConnell’s energy helped the Sixers shave a 15-point deficit when he entered at the 5:13 mark of the first quarter all the way down to two by the start of the second.

There’s a reason he’s been coveted in trade offers over the past couple of seasons. Even without big numbers, teams know what McConnell brings to the table.

• It’s easy to forget that former Sixer Nik Vucevic still mans the middle for the Orlando Magic. But when you do see him play, his game always leaves a lasting impression. That’s especially the case against the Sixers.

Vucevic has made his former team pay over the years with career averages of 18.9 points and 12.3 boards vs. the Sixers coming into Saturday’s game.

He turned in yet another dominant showing with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists for his second career triple-double.

More on the Sixers