Bulls lose hard fought battle to Sixers, Embiid scores 50

Chicago had no answer for Sixers star Joel Embiid, who had a career night.
by Sam Smith
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Philadelphia's Joel Embiid showed why he's an MVP candidate, scoring a career-high 50 points with 17 rebounds as the Bulls fells to the Sixers 112-105 on Friday night. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 30 points but had a rare off-shooting night, going 9-for-28 from the field. Despite the loss, the Bulls were within striking distance inside the game's final minutes - an encouraging sign for a young team still missing significant contributors.

To defeat the Bulls Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid needed the best game of his career, a combined collection of points, rebounds and assists achieved against the Bulls only by Wilt Chamberlain.

It's something; just not enough for the Bulls in a 112-105 Philadelphia victory.

"It took him to get 50 to beat us," pointed out Zach LaVine about Embiid's dominant game of 50 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. "He did his job as an MVP candidate. He had one of them nights, man. Made a lot of contested fadeaway jumpers even when the double team came, got offensive rebounds.

"You don't want to take moral victories," agreed LaVine, "but I think we've come together as a group. When teams play us, they know we're going to fight, claw back. Even if we have a bad quarter or bad possession, I think we can turn it around pretty quickly now. That's not a way to play moving forward, but it's something that I think we've worked on throughout this year and now with Billy (Donovan, coach) here changing our mindset to, ‘It's not over til it's over' we're going to try and find a way to get different things clicking."

Everyone including these Bulls are tired of taking steps and learning lessons and all that, and it's time for more wins as the Bulls record dropped to 12-16. The first place 76ers are 20-10. Embiid did what the Bulls once saw Michael Jordan do to so many other teams. Which was basically become the ramparts to fortify and protect his team against relentless bombardments and often weak defenses.

Joel Embiid

Philadelphia's Joel Embiid finished with a career-high 50 points and 17 rebounds against the Bulls.

Through the first half of a 58-53 Philadelphia lead, Embiid had 25 of the 76ers points against everything Donovan could think of. Embiid bookend halftime with 25 pointers. Donovan seemed to try everything but magic beans to feed to his corps of undersized centers. At least games like this should help show what the Bulls still need.

"They didn't overcomplicate it," said Donovan. "They played over our lack of size. They threw the ball up to the basket. They had those guys go get it. Embiid played over the top of us tonight."

The Bulls actually have been among the league leaders in at least defensive rebounding percentage with their Thad Young hustle game and usually opportunistic on the offensive boards for second chance points. But the 76ers with Dwight Howard also getting 10 rebounds off the bench—the 76ers had one possession with five offensive rebounds—outrebounded the Bulls 53-42 and had 23 second chance points. Young led the Bulls with nine rebounds and closed the game at center for Wendell Carter Jr. Carter had an impressive start against Embiid with the Bulls first eight points and 10 in the first quarter as the 76ers led 32-30. But Carter was scoreless with two rebounds in the second half. And at a loss for words, if also tactics, trying to deal with Embiid.

"It's tough," Carter conceded. "They've got really good shooters around him, so double teaming is kind of hard to do. He's just a tough guard; you know what I'm saying? Tough. I don't know how else to say it. Tough guard."

Tough center. Donovan said he went with Young down the stretch because Carter's defense against Embiid was fading. Not that anyone else's was much better.

"The reason for going with Thad is we were having a hard time with Embiid," Donovan understated. "It didn't make a difference. We put Luke (Kornet) out there. We had Gaff (Daniel Gafford) out there. We had Wendell out there. We had Thad out there. We had them all out there. I just felt like we needed to score some, and it was a hard night for us offensively."

And still despite all that with 2:17 left in the game on a LaVine stepback three as he finally got his offense going with nine points and an assist for a Young basket in a three-minute span, the Bulls were within 105-103. LaVine still scared 30 points for the 14th time this season by making all 10 of his free throws.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 30 points in the hard-fought defeat to Philadelphia.

Embiid then missed a 12 footer with the Bulls scrambling double teams from various directions. A chance to lead with barely over a minute left? A chance to steal one despite the historic performance. That's the stuff of Emmys for this first Bulls national ESPN TV game of the season.

But the 76ers threw bodies at LaVine. Matisse Thybulle knocked the ball off LaVine, which was confirmed on a replay. Young then did magnificent work fronting Embiid, getting around back, quartering and pushing Embiid off his interior post spot. But Embiid forced himself into a foul call on what seemed like it could have been an offensive foul. Young, of course, to the spot. Block! Oh no!

Donovan said he didn't see the play clearly enough and didn't want to lose his timeouts, so he didn't challenge.

"I thought Thad made a heckuva play on the baseline to try to draw a foul," said Donovan. "It was close. I thought about challenging, but the game was still within reach. We had two timeouts at that point in time."

Embiid made both free throws, an un-Wilt-like 15 of 17 for the game.

"We have some self-sabotaging moments," decided Donovan. "We're down by two. Zach sees (Seth) Curry on kind of a step-up pick and roll. Gets on the sideline, they jump him. It's called our ball. They review it; we lose it."

Garrett Temple then missed. Young snuck in for the offensive rebound, but LaVine missed a followup. Embiid then made a ridiculous 17 foot baseline stepback jumper for a 109-103 Philadelphia lead with 41.8 seconds left and pretty much game. The 76ers added some free throws while some desperate LaVine three-point attempts missed to produce a larger margin than the game suggested.

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine goes airborne for a slam in the fourth quarter vs. the 76ers.

"They made more plays than us," said LaVine. "After that shot I made, I think I missed my next three. They got to the free throw line a couple of times. The one that hurt was that tough stepback he made in the corner. It was a one or two-point game. They just made a couple more plays than us. If we make a couple of those shots or make a couple stops, it's a new game and then we don't know what happens.

"I'm upset about it, man," LaVine acknowledged about an uncharacteristic nine of 28 shooting, but with two steals and a block. "Obviously, you never want to go out there and miss shots. I think we all played hard. I just missed some easy shots that I normally make and I made this season. It's just unfortunate we missed them tonight."

But again the most help came off the bench, where the Bulls led 35-16. Young had 12 points, and Tomas Satoransky and Ryan Arcidiacono each had 10, the latter a season high. Arcidiacono also made the Thad Young Hustle Play of the Game with a surprise steal of an inbounds pass early in the fourth quarter when it looked like the 76ers might pull away at 87-81. It led to an 8-0 Bulls run and 89-87 Bulls lead with 8:31 left in the game.

"The home town weather, whatever it was Archie played great," commended LaVine. "The hustle plays he does, big shots, sacrificing his body. You need that. He played great tonight. He started that energy when we ended up getting the lead."

Ryan Arcidiacono

Ryan Arcidiaono, guarding Sixers rookie Tyrese Maxey here, had a nice game off the bench, contributing 10 points and turning heads with some hustle plays.

Arcidiacono was playing after Coby White bumped knees in the first half and indications were he would not return. White to his credit did start the second half. But he finished with just nine points. He and LaVine were a combined three of 15 on threes as the Bulls were 22 percent overall. The 76ers were seven of 21 on threes.

Temple started again and had seven points with Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. still out. Ben Simmons was out ill for the 76ers. Bulls rookie Patrick Williams continued to hit his wall, his fourth game in the last five scoring fewer than 10 points. In that stretch he has more turnovers than assists and is part of a starting unit that continues to give little offensive help to LaVine. The 76ers coached now by the savvy Doc Rivers recognized that and had multiple traps and double teams on LaVine all game.

So it was again left to the reserves to compete, which they do. But they don't appear to be the future.

"I thought the second unit, when we got right back in the game, maybe went up one or two, that was the most undersized team we had out there," said Donovan. "They were just fighting, scratching and clawing and we were coming up with rebounds; they were jumping over guys' backs. That's how we have to play. I give our guys credit. We competed, we kept ourselves in the game and gave ourselves a chance to maybe steal it when we maybe didn't play particularly well on the offensive end of the floor."

This being Philadelphia and the rare national TV appearance, the Bulls gathered in an attempt to be unified, if not forming a perfect union. They sought a common defense to promote their general welfare and perhaps begin to make some statements for posterity. It didn't constitute enough for a victory, though there were moments.

Wendell Carter Jr

Wendell Carter Jr. hits a hook shot over Joel Embiid in the first quarter.

Carter left mouths agape early with short hooks and even ramming Embiid out of the way on one score. "I was taking my shots. I was being aggressive," said Carter. "I feel that helps my team. It frees up Zach and Coby, Patrick, gives space to other players."

LaVine after a sputtering start shooting had a run of eight points in two minutes late in the first quarter after the 76ers led 30-21. The Bulls this time refused to allow the 76ers any domestic tranquility.

"I missed some wide open threes, some layups and stuff like that, some gimmes," LaVine lamented. "I think you have those nights every once in a while, but I'm glad that we kept fighting."

Gafford had a pair of blocks in the second quarter as he got back after sitting out two games. Though Donovan would toggle back and forth with Kornet, who continued to miss shots. The 76ers had that ridiculous offensive rebound sequence late in the second quarter that finished with a pair of Embiid free throws. Embiid then drove full court with a Eurostep to score a layup. Still, the Bulls were there, 58-53 at half and trailing 85-79 after three quarters even as the Bulls missed 15 of their first 17 threes. Young again had one of his remarkable sequences late in the third quarter with a tip between three 76ers for an offensive rebound that led to a Temple three-point play and then a block of a sure layup attempt on the next possession. He had three offensive rebounds in the third quarter to two for the 76ers.

But Philadelphia finally got Tobias Harris posting up, their small forward about the same size as the Bulls center. And then the Bulls took that fourth quarter lead…and just didn't have enough. Because of too much Embiid.

"Great player," said Carter. "He knocked down a lot of shots. There is not really much else I can say about it. Very skilled, very big player. There's only so much you can do."

The Bulls heard that one a lot when they had Mike.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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