76ers Fall to Portland, Lillard’s 51-Point Effort

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Philadelphia 76ers dropped a back-and-forth thriller to the Portland Trail Blazers 124-121 on Sunday night. The 76ers were down by 17 points at one point in the first half, but a second-half resurgence resulted in the lead changing hands. However, 51 points from Damian Lillard proved to be too much for a Philadelphia team without its two star players (more on that below). Here are some observations from the 76ers' loss to Portland:

1. Joel Embiid forced to exit the game with a left ankle injury

Within the last week, the 76ers went from having two available All-Stars to zero. Superstar big man Joel Embiid exited the game against Portland in the first quarter after stepping awkwardly on the basket stanchion after defending Wenyen Gabriel at the rim. NBC Sports Philadelphia's Serena Winters reported that Embiid suffered a left ankle injury that would force him to miss the remainder of the game. The injury came just days after Ben Simmons partially dislocated his kneecap in the game against the Wizards.

With the 76ers having three seeding games remaining, keeping Embiid healthy heading into the playoffs should be a priority. There is no reason to rush him back from any injury until he is back to 100%. Embiid was seen back on the bench in the second half, leading people to believe it is only a minor injury.

2. Josh Richardson's 34-point effort not enough to defeat Portland

Things were not looking good for the 76ers early against Portland. The team was down 33-19 after the first quarter of play, and Embiid was forced to exit the game with a left ankle injury. However, Josh Richardson led the Sixers back into the game, overcoming a 17-point deficit to eventually take the lead late in the third quarter. 

Richardson did a bit of everything on Sunday night. He scored a season-high 34 points (including making six 3s) while also dishing out six assists and grabbing five rebounds. Having Richardson break out of his funk from the last handful of games (10.8 points while shooting 35% from the field and 35% from 3-point range over the previous four games) could prove to be the ultimate takeaway from the loss to the Trail Blazers. If Embiid misses any time, it will be important that Richardson steps up to carry some of the offensive load like he did on Sunday.

3. Alec Burks continues to provide spark off the bench

Alec Burks on Sunday continued his string of impressive performances off the bench, scoring 20 points and grabbing five rebounds in the loss to Portland. Burks, a mid-season trade acquisition, has quickly made his mark since the NBA resumed action in the Orlando bubble. He has scored 20-plus points in two consecutive games, resulting in him earning the trust of head coach Brett Brown. He played 23 minutes against Portland, and he noticeably was in the point guard role at the end of the game over starting point guard Shake Milton.

The 76ers' bench as a whole performed well on Sunday. Rookie Matisse Thybulle impacted the game defensively, grabbing a team-high nine rebounds while also totaling three steals and a block. Glen Robinson III, in his return from a hip pointer, finished with four points and three rebounds in 17 minutes. Mike Scott, thrust into action after Embiid exited the game, provided a positive impact, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds in 15 minutes. It will be important over the team's final three seeding games to continue to receive some production from the bench.

4. 76ers faced some challenges defensively

The 76ers, facing Portland's experienced backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, knew they would have some challenges defensively on Sunday. Portland loves running pick-and-rolls to get Lillard open around the arc, and they took advantage repeatedly. The Sixers struggled to defend the pick-and-rolls throughout the night, especially once Embiid exited the game. 

Richardson was the first one tasked with the tough job of defending Lillard. He struggled from the opening minute of the game, as Lillard scored 12 of the Trail Blazers' first 16 points. Lillard feasted all night on open opportunities created by either ball screens or pick-and-rolls. He scored 51 points and was the main reason why the 76ers failed to grab the victory on Sunday night.

5. Up next

The 76ers defense immediately gets tested by one of the NBA's hottest teams: the Phoenix Suns, who have yet to lose a game in the Orlando bubble. The Suns are powered by Devin Booker, who has averaged 29.4 points while shooting 50% from the field and 31.3% from beyond the arc through five seeding games. It will be interesting to see how the 76ers defense adjusts to stop Booker, whether it be through playing zone defense or trying to attack ball screens more. The 76ers face off with the Suns on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.