Sixers thrilled to have ‘uncanny' Melton on night of extremes

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Choose a superlative to describe an aspect of the Sixers’ 133-122 overtime win Friday night over the Lakers. You likely won’t be wrong.

One of the worst attempts to hold a late-game lead you’ll ever see in the NBA? Sure. The Sixers were up by 16 points with 3:50 left and by nine with 34.8 seconds remaining. Anthony Davis missed a potential go-ahead free throw with 3.7 seconds to go in regulation, allowing the Sixers to reach overtime. The team turned the ball over six times in the final 1:53 of the fourth quarter. 

One of the best individual first quarters imaginable? Not a ludicrous statement. Joel Embiid scored 20 of his 38 points in the opening period on 8-for-9 shooting with an unstoppable mix of fluid perimeter skill and no-nonsense interior damage. 

The best game of De’Anthony Melton’s life? Yes, no doubt about that one. 

The 24-year-old set career highs in points (33), three-point makes (eight), three-point attempts (12), steals (seven) and minutes (43). 

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers labeled him as “unbelievable.”

While Melton’s night was clearly an outlier overall, both his offensive approach and constant defensive impact were somewhat typical. He’s taken 9.8 threes per 100 possessions. That ranks second on the Sixers behind Georges Niang, who sat out a second straight game with right foot soreness. Melton is second in the NBA with 2.3 steals per game. His 89 official deflections through 23 appearances are 50 ahead of the No. 2 Sixer in that category, P.J. Tucker.

Fifty.

“Half of his deflections, he has nothing to do with the play — he’s on the weak side,” Rivers said. “He’s just uncanny.”

Like all players, Melton has his flaws. A high-paced, high-activity style won’t ever coincide with perfection. He was part of what Tobias Harris called the Sixers’ “domino effect of turnovers” late in the fourth, committing two and also missing a crucial foul shot.

Still, Friday night illustrated quite well why the Sixers’ stars enjoy having Melton on their team.  

“We drafted him when I was in Houston, so I’ve seen him a little bit there,” James Harden said after a 28-point, 12-assist outing. “But his shooting has improved tremendously. You’ve seen it a little bit in Memphis, and then even over the summer, when we had our individual workouts, he shot the ball really well. He’s just a great addition to our team.”

“He can do this every night, and I always tell him he’s just got to let it fly,” Embiid said. “I feel like tonight, he just wasn’t thinking. I thought in the beginning of the second quarter, everybody was pump faking instead of just letting it fly. When you play against zone, if you have wide-open shots, you’ve got to be able to take them without thinking.

“I thought his biggest impact was defensively. (Seven) steals is amazing. Especially with all the injuries we’ve had, he’s been great, and we’re going to need more from him.”

In addition to Niang, Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) and Danuel House Jr. (left foot laceration) were out. Maxey enjoyed the show and provided ample encouragement. 

Melton recalled Maxey's sideline words with a smile: "‘Keep going. Just keep going. Stay on your shot. And if you don’t keep scoring, then I’m soft.’ So I just tried to keep going.”

Melton shouldn't be exempt from the list of injured Sixers. 

He was scratched late from the team's Nov. 2 matchup with the Wizards because of back stiffness. And, though he’s played in 12 consecutive games, he acknowledged following shootaround Friday morning that his back remains an issue and he still feels it while playing. Embiid noted after the game that Melton “barely practices.”

“As long as I can help my team in any way, then I’m going to keep going, I’m going to keep playing,” Melton said. “We’ve got guys coming back from injuries and guys still out. So just try to provide a safety net for them when they come back, and just try to keep this thing afloat.”

Melton also shared in the morning that he was especially determined to beat the Lakers because he grew up a Clippers fan. He recalled seeing Elton Brand — once an All-Star power forward, now the Sixers' general manager — and Corey Maggette among the jerseys in his mother’s closet. 

The Los Angeles native cracked a joke at Sixers assistant coach (and former Clipper) Sam Cassell’s expense.

“We didn’t really like Sam too much,” he said. “Nah, I’m playing. We didn’t have any Sam Cassell jerseys, but I always watched him growing up, too.” 

When he sat down at the postgame press conference podium, Melton had his own red jersey in the pocket of his black sweatshirt. 

“Honestly, I’m about to give it to my mom," he said. “She’s about to get it. Especially on a night like this, it’s definitely going to her.”

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