By Connor Thomas
About 1 hour before game time, it seemed that Joel Embiid would suit up and finish out the road trip with the rest of the Sixers as they took on the 1st place Utah Jazz. Then, just minutes before tip-off, Embiid was once again ruled out with the pesky back soreness that has bothered him for the past couple of weeks. In a matchup with the hottest team in the NBA, this didn’t bode well for the Sixers. It seemed like an uphill battle even before the game started, but it was clear as soon as Ben Simmons touched the ball that Philly’s point man was in for a special night. The Sixers in total came out of the gate hot, with Tobias Harris scoring 14 in the opening quarter and the team putting up 42 points. But it was Simmons’ 19, the most in any quarter of his career, that really buoyed the Embiid-less Sixers in the opening frame. With a 7 point lead heading into the 2nd, some may have given Philadelphia a puncher’s chance, but the bench minutes in the early part of the quarter would quickly send that thought out the window. Philly went cold, only putting up 24 in the 2nd frame, while Utah went from warm to scalding hot. It was a balanced attack across the board from Utah in the first half with Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson all scoring in double figures, and the team as a whole poured in 9 3 pointers in the half.
With a 6 point lead at the half for the Jazz, the game was by no means out of reach. Simmons made sure of that by coming out of the halftime break with another impressive quarter of 13 points, but Clarkson was on another planet for Utah. He added 13 of his own on top of his 19 first half points, and by the end of the 3rd had already knocked down 7 3s in the game. On a team that features Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, it must have been frustrating for the Sixers to have an issue stopping the veteran bench scorer, but Clarkson was not to be contained. The Jazz lead had grown to 12 by the time the 4th started, and despite Simmons’ 34 points by that point, the game felt out of reach. Tobias Harris finished out a 36 point performance by helping Simmons keep Philly afloat, but Utah had every starter in double figures and a 40 point performance off the bench from Clarkson. Without Embiid, it was just too much firepower to overcome. There are positives to pull out of the loss for the Sixers, most obvious being the 42 point career high from Ben Simmons (with a 12-13 performance at the free throw line!). Questions are beginning to be raised about Philly’s ability to score when the starters leave the floor.
The only other welcome thing for Doc Rivers outside of Simmons’ 42 and Harris’ 36 is that the team’s West Coast road trip is officially over. The Sixers will head back home for a Wednesday night matchup with John Wall and the Houston Rockets. The Jazz improved to an NBA best 23-5 with the victory, while the Sixers fell to 18-10.