If the 76ers were without Joel Embiid Monday night, they would’ve seen a 14-game winning streak against the Hornets end Monday night in Charlotte. They’re fortunate to have that superstar center who saved them from a bad loss.
Embiid posted 43 points on 15-for-20 shooting, 15 rebounds, and seven assists in the Sixers’ 127-124 overtime win at the Spectrum Center.
The Sixers called an action for Embiid at the top of the key on the final possession of regulation. He took a fadeaway jumper that bounced off the backboard and then rimmed out. That miss didn’t slow down Embiid, though. He was brilliant in overtime, too, and carried the Sixers to victory.
Kelly Oubre Jr. had a team-high 35 points for Charlotte but missed a three-point try on the team’s last overtime possession.
Because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Hornets were down five players. LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee, Jalen McDaniels, and Ish Smith all missed Monday’s game.
Tyrese Maxey sat out his first game of the season with a non-COVID illness.
Here’s three takeaways:
Another bad start
Monday night was the fourth time in the last five games the Sixers have gotten off to a slow start and fallen way behind because of it.
Nick Richards, Charlotte’s second-year replacement starter, scored six early points. The Sixers’ transition defense was an issue to begin the game, although the starters were able to stabilize things for a stretch.
However, the bench was outworked by the young Hornets late in the first quarter. Rookie JT Thor threw down a big dunk on Andre Drummond and also drained a three-pointer. A fast-break and-one from Oubre put Charlotte up 34-23 and it appeared the Sixers could be in a bad position.
A couple of three-pointers in the second quarter from Isaiah Joe, playing his first game since last Saturday, helped the Sixers quickly get rid of the deficit. The Sixers’ bench was on fire as a whole in the second as the team began the quarter 9-for-9 from the field and scored 44 points in the quarter.
Whatever the reason is for the slow starts, it’s now fair to call them a trend. The Sixers will hope it’s just an early-season dilemma.
Embiid’s a monster
As is now typical for every opponent, the Hornets double teamed Embiid frequently. PJ Washington had the tough job of being the primary Embiid defender and gave up about five inches in height.
Embiid countered the help defense well. If the correct play was to make a simple dish out to a teammate, that’s what he did. His effort was a huge plus yet again. Embiid converted a coast-to-coast, and-one layup, worked hard for the full duration of the shot clock defensively, and sealed Washington deep several times during an impressive second-quarter stint. When he buried his man in the paint, it doesn’t matter if the opposition’s plan is to send a second defender on the catch or the dribble.
Embiid’s concentration seemed to slip for a bit in the third quarter when he committed two turnovers. His jumper was smooth, though, enabling him to post the sort of efficient numbers that were characteristic of his MVP runner-up season last year.
The Sixers needed Embiid to be great because, for most of the night, their defense was not.
Charlotte did not allow them to cruise to a win, going on a run whenever it looked like the Sixers might get hot despite only playing eight men, including rookies James Bouknight and Thor. Bouknight scored his first NBA basket and 11 points. He threw down an eye-catching put-back dunk during a Hornets run in the fourth quarter.
Tobias Harris (21 points, 11 rebounds) had a rough start after missing Friday’s win in Atlanta with a non-COVID illness. He found his shooting stroke in the third quarter, though, nailing two threes. Embiid connected with Harris for a high-low bucket with 1:10 to go in overtime, lifting the Sixers to a 127-124 lead and to close out the game.