In Review | Young Talent Stands Out in Primetime Pairing
PHILADELPHIA, PA - They came to The Center Thursday, all 20,495 of them, eager to see a primetime match-up featuring two rival franchises, each boasting plenty of big name prospects.
The atmosphere was electric, the building sold out for the 13th time in as many regular season games, and the finish, certainly in terms of excitement, measured up. The outcome, though, wasn’t what the fans in red, white, and blue had in mind.
Unfortunately for them, and the 76ers team they were pulling for, Brandon Ingram had other ideas.
With 0.8 seconds left in a spirited nationally televised duel, the 2016 No. 2 pick found himself open on the wing, and dialed up a 3-point shot that sent the Los Angeles Lakers to a 107-104 victory. The clutch deposit allowed the Purple and Gold to stave off the Sixers’ comeback bid, in which the latter, led once again by its big man, managed to erase a 15-point fourth quarter gap, and tie the game twice in the final two and a half minutes of play.
Ingram’s evening ended with an L.A.-best 21 points. He just hit 7 of his 21 shots, but nailed the one that mattered most. The Duke product proved to be a tricky cover indeed.
“He really has a game that almost reminds you of a young [Kevin] Durant,” Brett Brown said afterwards, citing Ingram’s combination of length, skill, and height. “The shot that he made, that’s a big shot.”
The Sixers, in their own right, of course, boast dynamic young talent as well, none of which disappointed Thursday. Joel Embiid, three weeks after making history against the Lakers with a 46-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist, 7-block box line, turned in another impressive outing highlighted by 33 points (11-17 fg, 2-3 3fg, 9-10 ft), 7 boards, 6 dimes, and 5 swats.
The big man poured in 16 points in the fourth quarter alone, only to have his go-ahead lay-up attempt denied with 12.5 seconds to go. Los Angeles’ Lonzo Ball (10 pts, 8 reb, 8 ast), this year’s second overall pick, gathered the loose ball rebound off Embiid's miss, bolted into the frontcourt, and after getting the ball back from Ingram, drove baseline as time was running out. The move commanded the full attention of the Sixers’ defense, and subsequently left Ingram by his dangerous lonesome on the perimeter.
“He’s playing with a great deal of confidence,” Brown said of Ingram. “He had a heck of a game. He’s going to be a great player.”
Thursday’s loss not only overshadowed Embiid’s latest strong showing, but those put forth by several of his youthful teammates.
Staying true to form, Ben Simmons was ever-versatile, manufacturing 12 points (6-14 fg), 13 rebounds, and a career-best 15 assists. The triple-double was the rookie’s third, the top total of record for a player with 23 appearances or less.
On the heels of a stretch during which the Sixers compiled a 7-3 record, Simmons called the group's second straight loss “tough.”
“[We’re] trying to get back to where we were,” the Aussie said. “We’re still learning, obviously, but I think we’ll get back there.”
Although the Lakers took the floor Thursday having dropped a season-high 5 consecutive games, they wasted little time laying the foundation for a skid-snapping performance, simply by doing some of the things they do well - attack downhill, and run in open court. For context, L.A. entered the night second in the NBA in fastbreak scoring, and first in scoring in the paint.
Two areas in which the Lakers were similarly proficient heading into Thursday’s affair were rebounding and bench scoring, ranking fourth and third in those categories, respectively. These strengths became more and more apparent, and relevant, too, as the Sixers’ second go-round against Los Angeles played out.
The Lakers ultimately outdid the Sixers on the offensive glass, 15-7, netting L.A. a 22-11 edge in second-chance points. The Los Angeles bench, meanwhile, accounted for 41 points.
“They had a lot of offensive rebounds,” said Embiid. “We’ve got to rebound the ball. They got what they wanted.”
Despite having to face an uphill climb for most of Thursday’s bout, the Sixers were up for the challenge. Take the second half, for instance. Facing a game-high 16-point deficit midway through the third quarter, the Sixers responded by ripping off a 13-2 spurt that got them back within two possessions, 75-70.
Not too long after that, Los Angeles answered with a 13-6 run of its own, the blitz bridging Thursday’s final two periods. Still, the Sixers refused to back down. As significant as Embiid’s individual output was to the cause, the same could also be said for an infrequently deployed frontcourt pairing he wound up being part of.
In the absence of Dario Saric (left eye laceration / corneal abrasion, right eye), there were minutes to be had along the front line, so Richaun Holmes, who hadn’t played in the Sixers’ two previous games, had at them. Throughout the night, he was used sporadically at the four spot, and formed an intriguing partnership with Embiid while doing so.
The combo really hit its stride late in the third quarter, prompting Brown to keep the duo out there for most of the fourth, especially when the game was up for grabs.
The head coach’s instincts were rewarded, as Embiid twice set-up Holmes for pivotal baskets in the final four minutes. On the first, Embiid dished to Holmes for a tough 2-foot lay-up in traffic that yielded an and-1, and brought the Sixers within a point, 98-97. Not too long after that, Embiid fed Holmes for a cutting dunk, which evened the ledger at 101 apiece.
Holmes fought his way to a season-high 12 points (5-8 fg, 3-4 ft). Plus, he tacked on 6 rebounds and 2 steals.
“I thought his bounce and his spirit really helped us,” Brown said, when asked about Holmes.
“Any time you lose, especially in front of a crowd like that, it’s always tough,” said Holmes. “We just got to back to the drawing board, and get back to doing what we do.”
Business-like words from a man who constantly conducts his work with a business-like approach. He was the only Sixer reserve to score on the Lakers.
T.J. McConnell was back in the mix with the second unit Thursday, returning from a 3-game absence (sprained AC joint, left shoulder). He received a nice ovation upon checking in for the first time, and tallied 3 assists and 2 rebounds in nearly 18 minutes.
There was plenty to like about this second-quarter sequence (which featured Joel Embiid and Richaun Holmes playing alongside each other for the second time this season), from the rim and paint protection, to the no-look pass, and thunderous finish.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 8, 2017
For the better part of the last three weeks, the Sixers have had the luxury of setting up shot almost exclusively at home, playing 9 of 10 contests at The Center. Starting Saturday, with a stop at the surging Cleveland Cavaliers, the landscape changes a bit, as the Sixers begin a 3-game trek that follows the gruelling itinerary below. They’ll also visit the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves, two other potential playoff teams, before coming back East.