3 observations after Sixers beat Grizzlies in wild OT game without Embiid


The Sixers essentially had nothing to lose Monday night. And they didn’t do that.

Without Joel Embiid, who rested after playing in 21 straight games, the Sixers earned an impressive, wild 122-119 overtime win over the Grizzlies at Wells Fargo Center.

Grizzlies star Ja Morant had 37 points in a fantastic performance. His and-one layup tied the game at 111 apiece with 7.4 seconds left in regulation. Morant missed the ensuing free throw and Seth Curry then took the ball down the floor and couldn't nail a potential game-winning jumper. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, who’d just spent his challenge, protested that Curry was hit in the back by Jaren Jackson Jr. and was called for a technical foul. 

The overtime was also full of drama. Tyrese Maxey (33 points, eight assists) put the Sixers up 120-119 with 26.4 seconds to go on a driving layup. Maxey scored the game's final points after Ziaire Williams missed a three on the Grizzlies' final possession; Matisse Thybulle tossed the ball ahead to Maxey for a layup as time expired. 

Memphis guard Desmond Bane notched 34 points. Tobias Harris scored 31. 

In addition to Embiid, the Sixers were also without Furkan Korkmaz (left knee soreness) and Shake Milton (back contusion). Memphis’ Dillon Brooks was sidelined by a left ankle sprain. 

The finale of the Sixers' five-game homestand is Wednesday against the Wizards. They've won five straight games and 15 of their last 18. Here are observations on their win over the Grizzlies:

Morant an incredible player to watch

Thybulle is almost never outmatched defensively. Against anyone besides Thybulle, though, Morant looked potent. He scored his first basket by getting Andre Drummond on a switch, blowing past him, and converting a contortionist’s layup.

The one-on-one encounters between Morant and Thybulle were entertaining, although that’s an accurate word for most things the first-time All-Star guard does on a basketball court. Thybulle was as solid as possible on the ball when the two went head to head, avoiding risky plays in search of steals and blocks.

The Sixers mixed up their defensive schemes, playing zone at times and having Drummond show Morant different looks in pick-and-roll coverage. Not a bad game to try zone, and it helped the Sixers that Memphis began 3 for 18 from three-point range. 

Morant packed the third quarter with “How the heck did he do that?” plays, among them a behind-the-back dish to Williams and an alley-oop slam. His constant creativity, both on the ground and in the air, is sensational. Fans of the sport are lucky to have him. 

He hung in the air for eternity before making a tightly contested layup to cut the Sixers' lead to 98-96 and slithered through gaps that surely didn't exist to trim Memphis' deficit to 106-105. What a unique player. 

“He’s a great athlete," Drummond said of Morant. “He’s able to make spectacular plays, get the 'oohs' and 'ahs' of the crowd, but it’s still two points. You don’t get extra points for style. We did a good job of just moving on to the next play. … He’s a great basketball player and he made great plays down the stretch of the game. You’ve got to take your hat off to him but ... we won the game so it doesn’t matter, the other stuff.”

Maxey and Joe spark hot start 

Embiid had been the Sixers’ top scorer in 20 consecutive games. He’s about as irreplaceable as any player in the NBA.

On defense, the main adjustment without Embiid is asking Drummond to protect the rim. On offense, the task is more complicated, though the Sixers are best on Embiid-less nights when Maxey pressures the defense early in the shot clock. 

Maxey did that job at a high level in the first quarter, notching 11 points and giving the Sixers a 32-23 lead with a fast-break lefty layup. He also made a pull-up three, found Drummond on an alley-oop, and posed a regular threat with speedy drives.

Maxey was far from a one-man show in the Sixers’ 39-point opening quarter. Danny Green and Georges Niang chipped in three-pointers off the bench, while Isaiah Joe had two four-point plays in his first stint. And, with Harris in trouble, Joe smartly cut into open space for a layup that extended the Sixers’ advantage to 47-32 early in the second quarter.

Playing time has been unpredictable this year for Joe, but his talent as a shooter and intelligent, committed defender (albeit an undersized one) should boost his case for a more consistent role at some stage. Regardless of what’s next, the 22-year-old has a mature approach. 

“You never know what’s going to happen, so you’ve got to expect the unexpected,” Joe said Monday after shootaround. “You’ve got to be ready at all times and you’ve got to understand that; you may play 10 minutes this game and you may not play at all the next game. I know my role on this team, I know my position, I know what they want from me, so at this point it’s just about being ready at all times.”

The one Sixer off his game in the first half was Curry, who misfired on open jumpers and committed a turnover that led to a Memphis transition basket. Curry picked up his third foul late in the second quarter. In his second game back from a left ankle injury, he shot 4 for 15 but provided a few important baskets down the stretch. 

Maxey hit a rough patch late in the second, losing some control and making rushed, forced decisions, including an air ball on a step-back three-point try. However, he took positive momentum into halftime. The 21-year-old set Harris up for a three with a simple drive and kick, after which  Rivers raised his arms and gestured as if to say, “How hard was that?” Maxey added an and-one layup shortly after. 

It soon became clear that, if the Sixers were to win, Maxey and Harris would need to guide them. Harris played very well, increasing his aggression a touch from the norm but still playing with a sensible, brisk style. The two both had strong defensive games, too.

Drummond the starter does his thing

When Drummond starts, the odds of a double-digit rebound game are high. He checked that off Monday by halftime, happily snatching any available board. He finished with 16 points, 23 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

Charles Bassey played behind Drummond and recorded two points, four rebounds and two blocks in nine minutes. The rookie displayed his anticipation and athleticism by swatting a Steven Adams shot. Not quite as easy as the G League (he’d blocked five shots the day before in Delaware with Drummond watching courtside), but it seems Bassey’s got the tools to make an impact in the NBA. 

Bassey had a difficult start to the fourth, though. He fouled Jackson on a fast-break layup and the Memphis big man's free throw gave the Grizzlies an 85-84 lead. Drummond was at the scorer's table soon after to replace Bassey and play a long, dramatic final stint. 

“Huge plays, huge rebounds, huge blocked shots," Rivers said of Drummond. “I keep calling him a kid because I’ve known him for so long … the kid can play. He really can, and somehow he got lost out there. And I think we are very lucky to have him.”

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