Sixers Come Up Short Against Magic, Lose 105-97
The Philadelphia 76ers once again found themselves in a close game down the stretch, but remain winless on the season as they fell to the Orlando Magic 105-97 last night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers (0-6) last lead in the game came midway through the second quarter, when an Isaiah Canaan three pointer capped a 12-0 Sixers run to give the home team a brief two point lead.
The Magic then used a 6-0 run to give them a 7 point half-time cushion and a lead they’d never relinquish.
Despite never holding a lead in the second half, the Sixers kept it close for most of the fourth quarter. The Magic started off the second half with a 15-7 run to build a 15 point lead, but the Sixers were able to trim that deficit to 8 by the end of the third quarter. 5 straight points by Jerami Grant to start the 4th had the Sixers right back in it, down by only 3 at 81-78.
In the end, the Sixers were never able to make the climb all the way back.
They pulled it to within 4 at 97-93 after a pair of Nik Stauskas free throws with 1:32 remaining in the game, but an Elfrid Payton pull-up jump shot extended the lead back up to 6 for Orlando. T.J. McConnell pinched down to give JaKarr Sampson help on a driving Elfrid Payton, which gave the Magic’s second year guard an open 16 foot jump shot.
It wasn’t necessarily the worst decision in the world, as Payton shot just 32.9% on field goals between 10′ and 16′ last season and is shooting just 20% on similar shots this year. Still, Payton confidently stepped into the shot and drained the dagger.
Payton, Dewayne Dedmon, and Victor Oladipo all made a pair of free throws down the stretch to seal the game for the Magic.
Payton led the Magic with 20 points on the night on 8-10 shooting from the field. Payton had just gone scoreless in 15 minutes of play the previous night against Toronto.
Payton was joined by 5 other Magic players in double figures, including Evan Fournier (17), Dewayne Dedmon (12), Mario Hezonja (11), Jason Smith (10), and Aaron Gordon (10).
The Sixers had their opportunities late in the game, thanks in large part to the 5 fourth quarter turnovers the Magic committed, but the Sixers shot just 33.3% from the field and 7-14 from the free throw line in the final frame.
The missed free throws plagued the Sixers the entire game, as the team shot just 14-26 from the free throw line for the game, compared to 21-24 for the Magic. Those twelve missed free throws were huge in a game that was so close down the stretch.
“We just really let ourselves down by not having the ability to make free throws,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game.
The other turning point was when Nerlens Noel got ejected from the game late in the third quarter for retaliating to an elbow former Sixers’ big man Jason Smith shoved into Noel’s chest. Noel then swung his right arm around Smith’s shoulder and neck, which earned Noel a flagrant two foul, which carries with it an automatic ejection.
“I got hit in my ribs,” Noel explained after the game. “I reacted, but I pulled away.
“It just wasn’t a call I was expecting,” Noel concluded.
The Sixers were down 8 when Noel was ejected, and had an offensive run without Noel in the game that got them back within striking distance. Noel, who had been experiencing a relatively consistent start to his season with three double-doubles in his first five games, struggled more than usual against Orlando. Noel finished with just 2 points on 1-4 shooting to go along with 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers in his 21 minutes of action.
Noel also didn’t have quite the defensive impact against Orlando that he has throughout the season, as the Magic scored 48 points in the 22 minutes Noel played, shooting 51.4% from the field during that time, although much of the Magic’s success with Noel on the court came from perimeter shooting.
Noel’s defensive presence in the paint was sorely missed during that final frame, as dribble penetration from Orlando’s guards went unchallenged at the rim. Over 41% of Orlando’s offense came within 5 feet of the basket during the 26 minutes Noel was on the bench and they shot 52.6% at the rim during that time. With Noel in the game that fell to 32.4% of their field goal attempts at the rim on 41.7% shooting. That was even worse in the 4th quarter, where 57% of Orlando’s field goal attempts came at the rim.
There were some bright spots, most notably ball movement on the offensive end that continues to show promise for the future, even if the Sixers are sporadic in their ability to execute it. The Sixers used three three-pointers, two from Isaiah Canaan and one from Hollis Thompson, to pull within 8 at the end of three. Those open three pointers, much like the 12-0 run in the second quarter, were the result of excellent ball movement.
“When we were rolling it’s because we were sharing the ball,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “Jahlil [Okafor] was kicking it out after double teams, the seas parted and we made some threes.”
For Canaan it was his third straight game coming off the bench after starting the first three games of the year for the Sixers at point guard. Canaan had another excellent game, his second in a row, as he scored a team-high 23 points on 8-16 shooting from the field, which included making 6 of his 12 three point attempts.
“I think he’s got an anvil off his chest,” Brown said after the game when talking about Canaan coming off of the bench and playing more shooting guard than point guard. “He’s found relief where he can go and probably play a more natural role.”
Canaan has been getting open three point opportunities because of the double teams Okafor has been receiving in the post, something he’s been able to make defenses pay for.
“[Okafor’s] drawing a lot of attention,” Canaan said. “In order to get the pressure off of him he needs somebody in that spot that can make shots and relieve that pressure. He’s been finding me the last few games.
“We’ve been working on it all season and every day at practice as well,” Canaan said about playing off of Okafor. “It’s all starting to come together.”
Canaan was joined by Okafor (19 points on 7-14 shooting from the field), Stauskas (18 points on 6-15 shooting), and Jerami Grant (11 points on 4-7 shooting) in double figures.
Okafor once against asserted his dominance on the offensive end, particularly against Dewayne Dedmon, who started for the Magic at center because Nikola Vucevic was out with a bone bruise in his knee. Okafor had 6 points, a rebound, and an assist in the first 3+ minutes of the game against Orlando’s starting unit.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign was Okafor continued to show an increased comfort level in reading the double teams opponents are throwing at him and using that to generate open looks for his teammates. Okafor ended the night with 3 assists for the second consecutive game, after recording just 2 assists in his first four games of the season.
Still, Okafor’s game carried with it a bit of negatives as well as positives. Okafor was attacked by the Magic in the pick and roll, finished with only 3 defensive rebounds on the night (with the team collecting only 72.4% of their defensive rebounding opportunities with him in the game, a rate that would rank 26th in the NBA), and shot just 5-10 from the charity stripe, the first real struggles he’s experienced from the line this season.
The Sixers now have a tough stretch of games to try to get their first win of the season. They host the enigmatic Chciago Bulls Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center, then follow that up with a home tilt against the 5-1 Toronto Raptors. After that they’ll have a couple of difficult road games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs before returning him to take on the Mavericks.
Odds and Ends
* T.J. McConnell had another strong game, finishing with 6 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists. He pushed the ball well in transition, found kick-out opportunities to open shooters on the perimeter, and moved the ball well offensively. While his pesky defense forced three steals, he did struggle at times keeping the Magic guards out of the paint, particularly off of the pick and roll. He also committed a season-high five turnovers.
* Richaun Holmes had easily the best game of his young career, recording 8 points and 6 rebounds, 5 offensive, in his 18 minute run. Both the points and rebounds were career-high marks for Holmes.
* JaKarr Sampson played just 5 minutes last night, the second time in 4 games he’s played less than 10 minutes after starting the first two games of the season. The team somehow managed to be outscored by 15 points during the 5 minutes Sampson was in the game.