3 Observations as Sixers Overcome Slow Start, Struggle to Beat Magic

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By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers escaped Orlando with a win, defeating the Magic 116-114 in overtime. The game should not have been this close, but the Sixers were able to pull out the win and move to 41-25 on the season.

Joel Embiid, despite shooting a terrible 9-of-28 from the field, used his ability to get to the free-throw line to score 35 points in addition to grabbing 16 rebounds and dishing out seven assists.

Tobias Harris had the best game of any Sixers player against Orlando. He finished with 26 points and nine rebounds while shooting 10-of-18 from the field.

The Sixers finish off their back-to-back with a home matchup against the Denver Nuggets on Monday. Here are three observations from the win over Orlando:

Sixers' slow starts continue

The Sixers have struggled with slow starts over the last month of basketball. They ranked 30th in defensive rating and 29th in net rating in the first quarters of games over the past month. Those struggles continued against the Magic.

Orlando opened up a 29-24 lead after the first quarter, and they extended it throughout the second quarter to go into halftime with a 59-47 lead. The Sixers came out playing with a lack of intensity, and their poor shooting from the loss to the Brooklyn Nets extended into the first half against Orlando. The Sixers were shooting just 33.3 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from three-point range at halftime. The duo of Embiid and James Harden combined to shoot the ball 5-for-23 in the first half, playing a huge role in the team's offensive struggles.

The Magic consistently got out on the fast break, outscoring the Sixers 17-0 in that category in the first half. There was simply a lack of physicality and defensive effort from throughout the roster. The Sixers are still getting used to playing with Harden, but there is no excuse for the lack of effort defensively.

It has been a rough past two games for Harden, an official signal that his honeymoon with the Sixers is over. Over the last two games, he has shot 8-of-36 from the field and 6-of-18 from beyond the arc. However, he did chip away at the free-throw line and knock down a couple key threes in fourth quarter and overtime to help propel the Sixers to the win.

Harris has his best night since playing alongside Harden

The Sixers as a team have mostly adjusted well to the addition of Harden to the lineup. Harris has been one of the main exceptions, although he is beginning to produce back to his normal level of play.

Harris was one of the only players who did not struggle in the first quarter for the Sixers. He scored seven points in the opening couple minutes of the game. He was one of the team's top scorers throughout the night, playing within the flow of the offense and taking shots with a ton of confidence.

The Sixers' offense is much improved when Harris plays with confidence like he has the prior two games. With Embiid and Harden struggling for much of the first three quarters, Harris' play was huge to help the team come from behind to get the win over Orlando. His biggest shot of the night was a three from the corner to give the Sixers a one-point lead with 31.2 seconds remaining in overtime.

Harris shot 3-of-5 from three-point range, with that shot proving to be the biggest of the game. Harris beginning to develop some chemistry playing alongside Harden is the biggest thing to take away from an unexpectedly tough win over the Magic.

Sixers wake up in second half, overtime

The Sixers buried themselves in a deep hole due to their struggles in the first half. They went into halftime down 59-47 with a ton of things needing to be improved on. It felt like the team was sleep walking at times in the first half, expecting to be able to easily beat the Magic and move on.

One of the areas needing improvement was their defense, specifically on the fast break. After allowing the Magic to score 17 fast-break points in the first half, they held them to just two fast-break points in the second half and overtime. They locked down defensively and held Orlando to 45 points in the second half.

The Sixers came out of halftime on a roll, outscoring the Magic 13-2 over the first 5:47 of the third quarter to help cut the deficit down from 12 to one. The team did a good job spreading the floor and then slowing the game down by getting Orlando into foul trouble. Embiid finished the game shooting 15-of-17 from the free-throw line while Harden shot 13-of-15 from the line. The duos' ability to get to the free-throw line nearly made up for their poor shooting performance. They combined to shoot 14-of-47 from the field.

It was shocking seeing the Sixers decide to not rest either Embiid or Harden considering the Magic were 18-50 coming into the game and this game was the front half of a back-to-back for the Sixers. The decision to not rest either of them proved to be beneficial as the Magic took the Sixers down to the wire, eventually involving an overtime period to decide the game.

Georges Niang also played a key role in helping the Sixers get the win over the Magic. He has been a crucial addition to the Sixers' roster this season due to both is ability to come up big in clutch moments and the floor spacing he provides. He scored eight points in the fourth quarter, including knocking down a pair of threes to help quell an Orlando run early in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.

The game went down to the wire in overtime. Cole Anthony was on fire from three-point range for the Magic, connecting on a trio of difficult shots from beyond the arc in the overtime period. However, Harris' clutch three (see the section above) and a timely challenge call from head coach Doc Rivers that turned a foul into a clean block by Matisse Thybulle with under 30 seconds remaining helped the Sixers get past the Magic in a game that was far more difficult than it should have been.

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