3 Observations: Sixers Survive Fourth-Quarter Collapse to Defeat Lakers in Overtime

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers opened up their seven-game home stand with a wild 133-122 overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.

The Sixers, after holding a comfortable lead over the Lakers for large parts of the second half, allowed the Lakers to get back in the game. There were a ton of unforced errors, and the game going into overtime was inexcusable.

Joel Embiid finished with 38 points, 12 rebounds and five assists while shooting 14 of 19 from the field. De’Anthony Melton had a career night, setting career-highs in points (33), made 3-pointers (eight) and steals (seven). His final stat line included incredible efficiency as well, shooting 11 of 16 from the field and 8 of 12 from 3-point range. James Harden added in 28 points and 12 assists.

The Sixers were without Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture), Danuel House Jr. (left foot laceration) and Georges Niang (right foot soreness). ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday Maxey is “on course to be back before Christmas.”

LeBron James (left ankle soreness) and Anthony Davis (non-COVID illness) were both available for the Lakers. Juan Toscano-Anderson (right ankle sprain) and Wenyen Gabriel (left shoulder sprain) were both out.

The Lakers were led in the loss by Austin Reaves, who finished with 25 points and five assists off the bench. Davis finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds. Russell Westbrook finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and four steals off the bench.

The Sixers now sit at 13-12 on the season. Their next matchup is against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday evening. Here are three observations from the win:

Embiid’s masterclass effort in the first quarter

The Embiid-Davis matchup was something to watch heading into this game. Embiid scored the first four points of the game. His first bucket came on a mid-range jumper off the feed from Harden. The second was more impressive as he drove on Davis and powered through him for a contested layup as the shot clock expired. Davis began the game defending Embiid, and he picked up two fouls in the game’s opening four minutes.

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham rolled the dice, keeping Davis on the floor. The decision came back to haunt him as Davis committed his third foul of the game with 4:51 remaining in the first quarter. Embiid and the Sixers immediately took advantage, blowing the game open by going on a 13-0 run. Davis’ early foul trouble had a huge impact on the game. He did not check back into the game until the 10:50 mark of the second quarter. The Lakers spent the rest of the game matching either Davis or James on Embiid.

Embiid was red hot in the first quarter, scoring 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting. His 20 points matched the first-quarter output from the entire Lakers team. Embiid scored from all over the floor, knocking down everything from contested shots around the rim to multiple 3-pointers. He ended the opening quarter in emphatic fashion, dunking all over Thomas Bryant and draining a fall-away 3-pointer from the corner.

Embiid was also excellent defensively in the opening quarter. The Lakers made a concerted effort to get Embiid switched onto James, but Embiid more often than not won that matchup early on. In just an example of Embiid’s early impact defensively, James passed up on a fast-break layup because Embiid was in the area to contest. James scored just five points on 2-of-9 shooting in the first quarter.

Embiid put on a masterclass in the first quarter, heavily putting his imprint on the game. Perhaps there was a bit of extra motivation considering the matchup against Davis. Either way, the Sixers benefited from his monster first-quarter performance to take a 31-20 lead.

Sixers still struggling in the non-Embiid minutes

The Sixers, due to Embiid’s terrific first quarter, built up a ton of momentum heading into the second quarter. However, they were haunted by a familiar foe: The non-Embiid minutes. Westbrook and Reaves carved up the Sixers’ defense in the opening few minutes of the second quarter. The Lakers went on a 13-2 run in the first 3:37 of the second frame. Paul Reed’s stint was brutal as he picked up three fouls and was a minus-12 in just four minutes backing up Embiid. Head coach Doc Rivers elected to give Montrezl Harrell the backup center minutes in the second half.

Embiid checked back into the game with 8:23 remaining in the second quarter and the game knotted up a 33. The Lakers at the beginning of the second quarter switched to a zone defense, another one of the familiar foes for the Sixers. After Embiid came back into the game, the Sixers failed to get him the ball consistently in deep post position. They did get some open looks from around the 3-point line, but the shots were just not falling.

Things drastically changed, like a switch was flipped, midway through the second quarter. Harden connected on a 3-pointer to make it a 46-43 game with 4:44 remaining. The floodgates for both teams were opened from there. Beginning with the Harden 3-pointer, the Sixers knocked down shots from beyond the arc on four consecutive possessions. The Lakers responded with made shots each trip back down the floor. Zone defense has haunted the Sixers in recent years. The one consistent way to break the zone defense is to take advantage of open looks from beyond the arc. Once the Sixers did that, they were mostly able to break the Lakers away from what was at one point a highly successful zone defense.

The Sixers also received a spark from Matisse Thybulle, who checked onto the floor with 2:03 remaining in the first half. He found a hole in the Lakers’ zone defense, cutting on the baseline behind the defense for dunks on consecutive possessions. He also made a strong impact defensively, recording three steals in 13 minutes off the bench. For someone who has not received consistent minutes on the floor this season, Thybulle did a good job showing what he is capable of. He finished with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting to go with an assist in 13 minutes.

Melton terrific on both ends of the floor

Melton put together what was easily his best night in a Sixers uniform. He was unbelievable on both ends of the floor, especially in the second half. It felt like whenever the Sixers needed a play, Melton was there to make it. Beginning with the Sixers up 71-67 with 9:13 remaining in the third quarter, Melton went on a stretch where he scored 11 consecutive points for the Sixers. He knocked down a trio of 3-pointers while also recording a steal. He played a large role in why the Sixers took a 93-83 lead into the fourth quarter. Defensively, Melton harassed the Lakers all night long. He played a crucial role in forcing the Lakers to commit 21 turnovers on the night.

This is the version of Melton the Sixers would like to see every night. While the results will not always be there to this extent, he did everything the team asked of him. He was aggressive defensively. Offensively, he played with a ton of confidence while spending much of the second half carrying the team’s offense. He has been the ultimate glue guy for the Sixers, especially as they battled injuries to both Harden and Maxey. The offseason trade that brought Melton to Philadelphia certainly looks like a home run at this point in the season.

Despite Melton’s huge performance, the Sixers wound up coughing up what was as high as an 18-point lead with 10:09 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Sixers committed 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter alone. They had a disastrous stretch with just under two minutes remaining as they tried to ice a 10-point lead. The Sixers turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions as the Lakers cut the lead down to five points. Melton canned yet another 3-pointer to extend the lead back up to eight with 44.3 seconds remaining. However, the turnovers continued to be a problem the rest of the way. Somehow the Sixers avoided complete disaster as the game went into overtime despite the Lakers having multiple chances to win the game.

The Sixers locked up defensively in overtime, allowing the Lakers to score just two points while forcing them to take a lot of contested shots from beyond the arc. Harden scored eight of the Sixers’ 13 points in the overtime period. After playing a large role in the team coughing up their fourth-quarter lead, it was good to see Harden and the rest of the team recover with a dominant overtime performance. The game should never have gotten to the overtime period, but at least the Sixers managed to come away with the victory.