This highly anticipated game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers had plenty of subplots. With two MVP candidates going head-to-head, Joel Embiid would end up leading his team to victory.
As the Philadelphia 76ers held the best home record in the NBA, the Lakers held the best away record. Could the Sixers hand L.A. their first loss away from the Staples Center?
The start of the game saw Ben Simmons asserting himself, driving to the rim and converting drives into points. The Sixers’ MVP candidate — Joel Embiid — was also aggressive, decisively attacking his defenders. In the first quarter alone, Embiid drew fouls against all of the Lakers’ big men. Danny Green added more offense, by knocking down a pair of corner 3-pointers.
Defensively, Philly struggled to stop Lebron James early, as he benefited from crisp passes from Marc Gasol on backdoor cuts. Luckily, for the Sixers, Anthony Davis went to the bench with knee soreness, and took advantage of his absence. By the end of the first quarter, the Sixers held a 10 point advantage.
Cold starts from Seth Curry and Tobias Harris did not help the Sixers gain a more comfortable lead. Shake Milton, who came in off the bench after Matisse Thybulle, hit some tough shots, adding much needed scoring outside of Embiid. In addition, Furkan Korkmaz hit some key shots to maintain a slight margin. A tough pull-up jumper from the corner and a three, off a hockey assist from Embiid out of a double team, enabled Philly to keep their lead.
Matisse Thybulle and Dwight Howard made minimal contributions, as Simmons and Embiid rested on the bench. Howard’s free throw airball generated some laughs from his teammates, but his continued foul shooting struggles added to the stagnant play of the 76ers on offense.
At times, LeBron James showcased his versatility and raw strength. Hitting perimeter shots, scoring in the paint on tough, contested shots, and making dishes to open teammates reminded the national audience why he is still considered a premier player in the league.
For the Lakers, outside of Davis and James, the offense sputtered. Schroder, Kuzma, and Morris were nonfactors, while Alex Caruso gave a minor spark off the bench. Yet, L.A. stayed close, and went into the half only down by four points.
After intermission, Simmons, Harris, and Green came out firing. A Simmons fastbreak layup and a couple of 3-pointers caused Frank Vogel to call timeout, going down 12 points early in the third quarter. Ideally, Seth Curry would inject a boost of offense after the half, but his shooting woes continued. Once the Sixers cooled down, the Lakers went on an 8-0 run after a Schroder drive and score.
A scary moment saw Embiid attempt a dunk and landed awkwardly on his back. LeBron James was called for a flagrant 1 foul, and Embiid knocked down both foul shots. Ironically, on a subsequent play, Embiid was called for a flagrant foul himself, sending Anthony Davis to the line.
The lead increased to nine after a surge of offense from Harris, Milton, and Embiid. As a result, Vogel used a timeout to settle his team.
Sixers rookie Tyrese Maxey checked in for his first minutes in the third and scored quickly on one of his patented runners in the lane. With a struggling Embiid, Tobias Harris hit a long jumpshot near the end of the quarter.
As the fourth quarter began, the Sixers held a seven point lead. Maxey added to the lead with a tough layup against Kyle Kuzma. Shake Milton also entered the game to provide much needed offense. His runner in the lane gave the Sixers an 11 point lead. A clutch 3-pointer by Korkmaz in transition extended Philly’s lead.
When Embiid came into the game, he made his presence felt with a nice assist to Ben Simmons for a layup. After a drive and heavy contact, he made a difficult shot, guarded by Anthony Davis. Midway through the quarter, L.A. could not capitalize on the Sixers being in the foul penalty. They missed four consecutive shots from the line.
The lead for Philly ballooned to 14 after a post up jumper from Harris, but Dennis Schroder would penetrate for layups, hoping to keep the Lakers in the game. James rested for a short period. The Los Angeles would not go away without a fight.
Under five minutes to go, Ben Simmons secured another triple double. Harris nailed a tough jumper over Davis, and the Sixers tried to fight off a Lakers last stand. An acrobatic layup by Embiid drew a foul against Anthony Davis, expanding the lead to 12.
Then, it happened. A tremendous run by the Lakers would stun Sixer fans and paralyze the Sixers in the same breath. Big shots by Caruso, Schroder, and Caldwell-Pope brought L.A. back, down by only one point with 19 seconds left. The Lakers took the lead with an off-ball screen for Anthony Davis, who made an uncontested layup at the rim. With the game on the line, the Sixers had the final possession.
As the ball was inbounded, Seth Curry received the pass, and the ball ended up in the hands of Tobias Harris. A move toward the basket and a pull-up jumpshot caused all of Philadelphia and Los Angeles to hold a collective breath. The shot left the fingertips of Tobias Harris, and in an instant, the 13-0 run by the Lakers was staved off as the ball swished through the net. A last second heave failed before the buzzer sounded. A nail-biter ended in a joyful triumph for the 76ers.
The next Philadelphia 76ers game is on Friday, Jan. 29 at 8 PM E.T. against the Minnesota Timberwolves