As the Philadelphia 76ers (48-23) matched up with the Chicago Bulls (35-37), they were looking to secure their ninth straight win and clinch a playoff berth on a night when they were honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1982-83 championship team. The Sixers played horribly for much of the game, got it to double overtime and lost 109-105.
Let’s break down the Sixers’ loss to the Bulls.
Sixers player notes:
Joel Embiid: 37 points, 16 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 blocks, 11-22 FG shooting
Embiid’s perfect record against the Bulls is over. The big man faced lots of physicality to start the game but was able to find the hoop. He started really applying himself in the third quarter, driving full steam ahead to the basket and daring anyone to stop him. Foul trouble made him less effective as the game went on but it was still another massive effort by the big man.
James Harden: 5 points, 7 rebounds, 12 assists, 2-14 FG shooting
Harden had one of those nights where he struggled to get by even the most ordinary defenders. He still made more than his fair share of plays but his inability to create significant advantages for himself (while also coughing the ball up an awful lot) hampered Philly’s offense significantly.
Tyrese Maxey: 22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 9-19 FG shooting
Maxey was able to get steps on Bulls defenders often and was by far the Sixers’ second-best offensive creator tonight. He commanded the ball down the stretch and shined with his scoring and playmaking. Although he went to a little too much hero-ball in crunch time, he was huge.
De’Anthony Melton: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, 7-15 FG shooting
Melton came through for Philly with some massive triples and a few hustle plays. Although his defense was not very good against LaVine, he was a big difference-maker.
Bulls player notes:
Zach LaVine: 24 points, 0 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 9-20 FG shooting
LaVine lit the Sixers up the last time he played them, hitting 11 triples in just 13 tries. His first shot of the night — a tightly contested corner triple — hit nothing but net and he continued to score, blowing by Sixers defenders and draining even more downtown shots.
DeMar DeRozan: 25 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 10-22 FG shooting
DeRozan’s shot-making sparked a Bulls run that put them ahead early and made the defense key in on him wherever he had the ball. He also made some quick-handed defensive plays to get the ball away from Harden. He came up with some clutch buckets down the stretch but also put up some questionable deep shots.
Nikola Vucevic: 21 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, FG shooting
Vucevic’s ability to stretch the floor often made it tough for the Sixers defense when they tried to switch. Almost all of his points came from inside the paint, where he didn’t miss a shot.
Danuel House Jr. again started in place of P.J. Tucker, who is still dealing with ankle soreness. The Sixers looked to get House on LaVine and put Tobias Harris on DeRozan, though the four perimeter players often switched assignments. The Bulls had Patrick Beverley guard Harden, pressing him relentlessly. It was a slow start for both teams, as they combined to shoot 5-18 to start and were not secure with the ball.
The Sixers switched Embiid onto DeRozan when he went into the pick-and-roll, cutting off his space to pull up for a middie or drive. The big man attacked the rim against Vucevic, the only reliable scoring option early on. Six turnovers in the first ten minutes of the game bailed Chicago out as it struggled to get its own offense going. Sloppy starts are a trend that Philly must nip in the bud before a three-game swing on the West Coast that starts later this week. The score after the opening quarter was 22-17.
Chicago has been one of the better defensive teams this season, ranking fifth in defensive rating, but they were without Alex Caruso and made the Sixers look clueless on offense at times. It felt like every third pass the Sixers made was errant and they complemented that horrid passing by imitating the hands of [insert your least favorite Eagles wide receiver here].
Their struggles were made worse as DeRozan hit tough shots, unfazed by the Sixers reserves’ defensive efforts, while Harden struggled mightily to get good looks for the bench unit. Had it not been for some strong rebounding, Philly could have dug itself quite a hole. A 17-2 Chicago run made possible by more turnovers put the Bulls ahead by seven.
Even with Embiid back in the game, the Sixers just couldn’t get anything right. No one could get meaningful separation from Bulls defenders on or off the ball. They had made some defensive plays to spark easy scoring chances but still had trouble cashing those in. Aside from some dum-offs to Harris in the dunker spot, there was basically no offense to speak of. With 14 field goals and 12 turnovers in the first half, Philly trailed 44-40.
At halftime, the Sixers recognized its last team to win the championship. Julius Erving called on this year’s squad to end the drought, saying that 40 years is far too long to go without a title.
Embiid started the second half ready to go right at the Bulls again. He provided stout rim protection that led to a fast-break bucket and scored seven quick points of his own. His ability to get past Vucevic from the post put the Chicago defense in tough situations, often leading to free throws as they scramble to contain him.
Many of the Sixers’ buckets came on unordinary plays. One came when a Maxey pass was tipped off the backboard right to Embiid by the block. Another came on a Maxey triple in which he was wide open due to a badly blown coverage. Still, with Embiid going into truck mode, Philly’s offense looked viable for a prolonged stretch for the first time all night.
After re-entering the game in the fourth quarter, Embiid committed two fouls in 10 seconds, putting him at five for the game. Melton hit another triple to give the Sixers the lead and then came up with a deflection leading to another bucket. LaVine was getting whatever he wanted out of the Sixers defense, slicing his way to the paint and getting looks and keeping Chicago in it.
While Philly wasted possessions trying to get the ball to Embiid and resorting to bad looks late in the shot clock, DeRozan put Chicago ahead with 42 seconds left. Maxey ties things up with a contested layup and Philly then got the ball back with a chance to win it. Doc Rivers let them play it out instead of setting up a play and the game went to overtime.
Melton got the OT period started with a reverse layup but Chicago tied it up, taking advantage of Embiid’s foul trouble by going at him. After a Harden turnover, with five seconds left, DeRozan settled for a three and clanked it. Onto Overtime Two: Electric Boogaloo.
Embiid hit a pair of free throws to put Philly ahead before fouling out. Paul Reed filled in for him but then immediately sent LaVine to the free-throw line after Harden let him go right by him. The Sixers trailed by two with 26 seconds left but came up empty, having to resort to fouls.
- Rivers’ plea to make the MVP debate more respectful was refreshing to hear and something I agree with.
- Philly’s own Derrick Jones Jr. gave his hometown the gift of Chick-fil-A nuggets. What a guy.
The Sixers will face the Bulls again in Chicago on Wednesday.