The Sixers needed to lead just 1.1 seconds Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
They played from behind throughout the game, but edged the Blazers when needed thanks to Joel Embiid. He hit a turnover jumper on the Sixers’ final possession to lift the team to a dramatic 120-119 win.
Embiid had 39 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.
Blazers guard Anfernee Simons was tremendous in his return from a four-game absence with a sprained left ankle. He was down 34 points and shot 8 for 12 from three-pointers. Portland also got 24 points from Jerami Grant and 22 from Damian Lillard.
The 44-22 Sixers will next face the Wizards on Sunday in Philadelphia. Here are observations on their comeback win on Friday:
crashing to earth first
After the Sixers’ impressive 4-1 road trip, it’s hard to imagine the team could have got off to a worse start than against Portland.
The Blazers played effective zone defense early against the Sixers, who were deliberate and indecisive in the half court and opened 0 for 5 from three runs. Meanwhile, Portland sank their first six shots from long range, including a corner three from Grant assisted by Thybulle.
Tyrese Maxey started the night on Lillard, even though the Sixers were set to go from one to four. Lillard asked Maxey to shake his head early after blowing the whistle he wanted with a quick, quick motion. The seven-time All-Star also got a rude call on Embiid later in the first quarter that the star big man couldn’t believe. The Sixers’ frustrations with fouls continued on a comically borderline level when they went to their bench. De’Anthony Melton fouled Lillard twice on his very first possession. Jalen McDaniels picked up three fouls in the first quarter.
The Sixers missed a few good looks and Portland had some well-contested shots. That said, the Sixers played a mediocre and error-laden defense. It also didn’t help that Embiid, who came into the game with a 30-game free throw streak, started 3 for 7. Embiid was much better from the floor (5 for 6 in the first) and increased its aggro once the Blazers backed up. replaced center Drew Eubanks.
A good run at Melton temporarily put the Sixers on the right track, but their deficit grew to 15 points early in the second quarter thanks to some triples from Simons. Simons and Grant combined to score 38 points in the first half on 13-for-18 shooting.
Thybulle the visitor
Playing his first game at the Wells Fargo Center since moving to Portland at the trade deadline, Matisse Thybulle received a tribute video and an almost entirely warm reception in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, he had a more standard taste of life as a visiting player in Philadelphia. Thybulle heard boos when he knocked down a corner three. The 26-year-old also made Embiid pay for dribbling a little too casually with him in the vicinity, slipping a steal back. Cam Reddish capitalized on that extra possession with a midrange jumper and the Blazers quickly extended their lead to 71-50 on a tough Grant three.
The Sixers assigned James Harden to Thybulle defensively. Harden struggled on the other end in the first half with Sixers starters and in heavy lineups, missing all five of his three-point tries. He passed Philadelphia native and Temple legend Guy Rodgers for 21st on the NBA’s all-time first-half assists list and edged out Michael Jordan for sixth on the NBA’s free-throw list. all-time in the league at the start of the fourth.
As for Thybulle, he finished the evening with five points on a 2-for-4 shot, two rebounds, a steal and a block in 20 minutes.
Embiid, the second unit brings back the Sixers
Thybulle missed two jumpers from the left wing early in the third quarter, although he participated offensively with an alley-oop dunk.
Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups decided to replace Thybulle and put on Reddish after the Sixers mounted a run led by Embiid. Tobias Harris (eight points on 3-for-11 shooting) had a midrange jumper, Harden had a pull-up three and the Sixers cut Portland’s lead to seven points despite everything that happened. went badly in the first half.
The Blazers regained their footing thanks in large part to Simons, who converted a few impressive floaters and three more. Simons is quite capable of those kinds of nights – he scored a career-high 45 points earlier this season against the Jazz – but the Sixers will be disappointed with how often the 23-year-old has made open shots long after it was apparent he posed a great threat. Still, give credit to Simons for proving he could keep scoring inside the arc when the Sixers kicked him out from the three-point line.
McDaniels threw a drive-thru dunk late in the third quarter, but he fouled Lillard on subsequent possession. In 10 minutes, McDaniels racked up five fouls. Thybulle finished with zero.
McDaniels was one of six players to leave the Sixers’ bench. Danuel House Jr.’s play was one of the bright spots on the second unit. House played high-energy defense for a few minutes in the second quarter and added five points in the fourth on a high-flying slam alley-oop and corner three. The shooting of Georges Niang was also a major asset. Niang went 4-for-7 from long distance, including a jumper that cut Portland’s lead to 112-104 with 5:16 to go. He closed out the match against Harris.
Predictably, Portland led their offense in the fourth through Lillard, who fell to 2-for-7 from three when he missed with Embiid sprinting at him on a pick-and-roll. Embiid was active and aggressive on the perimeter in the fourth, which contributed to Lillard and Simons throwing unsuccessful jumpers. Three from Melton (13 points, five assists) and Harden got the Sixers’ comeback rolling in the right direction, and two Embiid free throws improbably tied the game at 114-all with 2:50 remaining.
Portland swarmed Embiid on a play after the timeout and Jusuf Nurkic forced a turnover, but the Sixers took advantage of Nurkic for 1 for 5 from the foul line in the fourth. Nurkic made a crucial bucket in the final minute, however, driving for a go-ahead, and a layup after the Sixers bombarded Lillard and he quickly distributed the ball.
The Sixers still had a chance, however. These days, any shot taken by Embiid looks awfully promising.