By Connor Thomas
It would be easy to call last night’s victory the first statement win of the Doc Rivers era here in Philadelphia. The path to that victory, however, was anything but easy for the Sixers. The visiting Los Angeles Lakers were a perfect 10-0 on the road so far this year, and held the best record in basketball at 14-4. Oh, and they also had some guy named LeBron James playing some pretty good ball. I wrote yesterday that the Philly would have their work cut out for them against the Western Conference Standing leaders, but the first quarter actually seemed like a breeze for Joel Embiid and company. The Sixers shot a gaudy 63% from the floor in the 1st quarter, good for a 10 point lead at the end of the frame, thanks also to a slow start from pretty much every Laker not named James. There was also a rare appearance in the opening quarter from aggressive Ben Simmons, who had 3 of his team’s first 4 buckets of the game. LeBron had to fight to keep the slow starting Lakers in the game early on, as his 11 points in the opening quarter only served to keep the Lakers within 10. Part of the Lakers problem was Embiid, who had 13 of his own points in a dominant quarter that is becoming the norm for the Philadelphia big man. While Embiid tapered off in the 2nd, only adding 3 more points before the halftime horn, LeBron did not slow down as the game wore on. He poured in 11 more in the 2nd quarter to help the Lakers pull within 4 at the break, thanks also to 14 from Los Angeles’ other superstar, Anthony Davis.
At the half, two things seemed apparent: first, it was clear that Joel Embiid’s MVP hype is real. Second, the Sixers very clearly belonged in the conversation with the top tier of teams in basketball. The 3rd quarter was relatively quiet scoring-wise, but the thud on the Wells Fargo floor when Embiid was pushed out of the air by LeBron James was anything but quiet. For a second, Philadelphia held its collective breath as their MVP writhed on the floor holding his lower back, but moments later Embiid would be back on his feet and ready to shoot the flagrant foul free throws that followed. The Sixers entered the 4th with a 7 point advantage and continued to control the game, taking a 12 point lead on a Joel Embiid and one with only 3:07 remaining in the game. Normally that would mean an easy coast to victory, but the next 2 minutes and change were anything but calm for Philly.
The Lakers showed why they are the title favorites in the NBA, completely locking down the Sixers while going on an 11-0 run to pull within 1 point. After a missed 3 pointer from Danny Green, Anthony Davis received a beautiful pass from LeBron that led to a layup that put the Lakers up 106-105 with 11.2 seconds remaining. The Sixers called a timeout to advance the ball, and after an inbounds to Seth Curry the ball found the hands of Tobias Harris at the top of the key. With Alex Caruso on his hip, and LeBron lurking as a help defender in the lane, Harris hit a step back jumper for his 23rd and 24th points of the game to put the Sixers up 1 with less than 3 seconds left on the clock. A full court prayer from Davis went unanswered for the Lakers, and the Sixers escaped with a heart-pounding home win.
In a game that saw Embiid drop 28 and dominate, and Harris hit a game winner, maybe the most important performance was that of Ben Simmons, who turned in a 17-11-10 triple double and played outstanding defense all night on LeBron. It was a team effort by Philly, and a great win that proved they are truly in the upper echelon of NBA contenders. The Lakers dropped to 14-5 with the loss, while the Sixers, who will be back in action tomorrow night in Minnesota against the struggling Timberwolves, improved to 13-6.