GRADES: Memphis Grizzlies 106, Philadelphia 76ers 104

The Philadelphia 76ers lose a winnable game on the road.

The Philadelphia 76ers played without Joel Embiid tonight, but lost a game that was clearly there for the taking.  They came out aggressively in the first quarter, playing pressure defense, getting out on the break, and driving strong to the basket.  But as the game wore on it began to feel more and more like a team effort was not going to get the job done.  Someone was going to have to step up and be “The Man” in Embiid’s absence.  But the team spent most of the first half looking at each other to see who would be that guy, and no one seemed to want the job.

Memphis, on the other hand, had their own main man, Ja Morant, back from an injury tonight and there was no question who the leader was on their team.  Even starting 0-for-3 from the field he controlled the tempo and his team from the start.  In what amounted to a subpar game for the electrifying young star, Morant still had his finger on the pulse of this game the entire time, finishing the game with 17 points and six assists.

This is a talented young Memphis team and with the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. hopefully in February this will be a team to be heard from in the future.  But make no mistake, they did not beat the Sixers tonight.  The 76ers did that all by themselves.  It wasn’t just the terrible turnovers, almost all of which came from unforced errors and poor judgement, it was also the timing of those turnovers that finally put an end to hopes of victory.  Every time the team began to mount a run, they would throw the ball away and Memphis would get easy baskets.

The best thing that came out of this game may have been Shake Milton stepping into the hero role in the fourth quarter.  After spending three quarters watching no one answer the bell, Shake seemed to say, “Fine, if no one else will step up, then give me the ball”.  For most of the fourth he was a one man wrecking crew, and Memphis had no answer for him, watching him score 15 of the Sixers 28 and pulling them back from down 11 to down just one with the ball and 31 seconds left.

And then the turnover bug kicked back in.  Ben Simmons, largely invisible for most of the second half (minus a wide open 3-point shot that he missed by two feet), inexplicably tried to force a pass forty feet up the sideline with a full shot clock and only Danny Green on offense and all of the Grizzlies back on defense.  Following that Memphis turned it over themselves, giving the Sixers another  chance but this time it was Tobias Harris driving and stepping out of bounds.  That one play was the ballgame in a nutshell.  The Sixers got a wild last shot at the end, but it clanged off the backboard and that was all she wrote.

SHAKE MILTON

SG, Philadelphia 76ers

A+

33 mins | 28 pts | 3 reb | 4 ast | 2 stl| 0  blk | 5 TO| 10 – 18 FG | 2 – 5 3PT | 6- 7 FT | 2  PF | -2 |

The minus-2 is misleading because his +/- going into the fourth quarter was minus-12 as the whole team was playing dreadful. Once he put the team on his back everything clicked and they had a shot at the win at the end. The real question is why the last shot wasn’t designed for him instead of Harris.

DWIGHT HOWARD

C, Philadelphia 76ers

A

34 mins|    8 pts|  18  reb|  3 ast|   0 stl|  3 blk|  TO|  3 – 8  FG|  0 -1 3PT|   2- 8 FT|  3 PF|  +3|

Dwight brings energy every single night, and tonight he did it without fouling!  He controlled the glass all night and was the only thing that kept Memphis from driving right down the lane every single possession.  If he had hit a few free throws the end might have been different, but they were only in the game because of his presence and rebounding, so it’s hard to quibble.

Frankly, it’s a testament to how well Maxey has been playing that we have come to expect better numbers.  It’s easy to forget that he is still just a rookie playing in his 14th NBA game. He and Shake are the only players on this team capable of creating their own shot any time they want and they should have been on the floor together for more of the second half.  He was ok tonight, not great, and there are better games ahead.

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TYRESE MAXEY

PG, Philadelphia 76ers

C

25 mins|  12  pts|  3  reb|  0 ast|   0 stl|  0 blk|  0 TO|   5 -13  FG|    0-4 3PT|   2-2  FT|  1  PF|  +2|

Frankly, it’s a testament to how well Maxey has been playing that we have come to expect better numbers.  It’s easy to forget that he is still just a rookie playing in his 14th NBA game. He and Shake are the only players on this team capable of creating their own shot any time they want and they should have been on the floor together for more of the second half.  He was ok tonight, not great, and there are better games ahead.