Awesome basketball game. That one had pretty much everything, didn’t it?

We had two excellent teams going at it, trading buckets, and bringing it down to the wire. We had highly questionable foul calls, an ejection, successful lobbying of the refs, and Tobias Harris going overtime nuclear on the Jazz basket. We had Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell complaining about the refs, Joel Embiid calling out Howard Eskin and Keith Pompey, and then going on Twitter afterward to troll Mitchell.

More than anything, it was a fantastic win over the Western Conference’s #1 seed to close out the first half of the season as we enter the All Star break.

We’ll take some of those sidebar topics and cover them in other stories, while keeping this one narrowed down to the game itself. And for a while there, it looked like the Utah three-point shooting was going to be the story of the night, again, for the second time in as many matchups against this team. The Jazz were 50% from deep at one point and looked like they were going to outpace the Sixers again, until Doc Rivers’ team started linking together positive possessions in second half clumps, led by MVP candidate Embiid.

“He was absolutely unbelievable,” said Rivers of his center. “Just got what he wanted, when he wanted it, made the right plays. There were just so many little things when you think about the way Joel was playing. And then Tobias gets it going, and Joel wants it to go there (the ball to Harris). That was a really big team win for us. We were fortunate we got that three from Joel, which was huge for us.”

It was, indeed, the late regulation three pointer that sent the game to overtime, but first:

Closing by attacking

If there were any questions about the Sixers’ closer, they’ve been pretty much answered in the first half of the season. It’s going to be combination of Embiid and Harris. Some of those looks might be iso, or pick and roll, or multi-action, but the ball is going to end up in their hands.

This is what the Sixers did with their last seven regulation possessions on Wednesday night:

  1. Embiid three pointer – missed
  2. Embiid paint bulldozer over Gobert – made basket
  3. Embiid paint bulldozer against Gobert – two made free throws
  4. Embiid looking for foul on Gobert – no call
  5. Tobias Harris almost turnover after review, Sixers keep possession (huge break here, honestly)
  6. Harris attacks Gobert in the paint – made basket
  7. Embiid scrambles for three off a broken possession

That’s five of six possessions down the stretch where they just went right at Gobert in the paint, no play calls or sets or anything like that. I personally liked the fact that after the first missed three, Embiid changed his approach and just put his head down and delivered the battering ram on three-straight looks, and that’s a really mature and smart way to do it.

Ultimately, it led to this:

If we’re being honest, Embiid rescued what looked like it was going to be a disastrous Sixers possession. They looked like they weren’t sure what they wanted or needed there, and couldn’t get themselves arranged. They were sub-15 seconds and down three.

“We wanted a two or three, we didn’t even care at that time, because we had a timeout in our pocket,” said Rivers. “That was big.”

Yes. Yes it was big, so on we go to overtime, which brings us to the ridiculous Mitchell foul call, and I hate these embellishments as much as you do, but will admit that the Sixers get these calls, too:

The interesting thing about this play is kind of set the tone for the rest of overtime, and the refs got Mitchell on an offensive foul call a few plays later with the chicken wing/arm hook on the spin move in the paint, which I think was more of a makeup call for the bullshit he was previously awarded.

You be the judge:

 

After this, a short time later, Mitchell was T’d up on the play where Embiid went down on the failed dunk, with slight contact from Gobert, and then got up and successfully lobbied for the whistle.

That led us to the second tech, the ejection, and violence directed at an innocent Gatorade container:

That was one story of overtime, the foul calls, ejection, and perceived lack of respect for the Jazz.

Harris carrying the Sixers in overtime was the other, and he scored 11 of the team’s 13 points in that period.

“You miss a couple of games and need to get your timing back,” said Rivers of Harris. “I thought he was really struggling in the first half, and you could see that his timing was just off. We liked the matchup before the game, we just couldn’t get anything out of it. In the second half we started getting things out of it. And Seth (Curry) in the second half was big offensively as well. I thought the bench turned the game around in the third quarter though. Dwight and that whole group made a run, cut the lead to one, and then we brought our starters in to close it out.”

Harris finished with 22 points and scored half of those in the five-minute overtime period. He earned every bit of that contract last night and has been earning it all year long.

Efficiency Wars

One of the keys to the first Sixers/Jazz game, in which Embiid did not play, was analytics. In that matchup, the Sixers out-volumed the Jazz in the field goal department, taking 94 shots compared to Utah’s 86. But Philly shot 8-23 from three (34.8%) while Quin Snyder’s team was 18-45 from deep (40%), and that disparity in efficiency created an uphill climb that the Sixers weren’t able to traverse.

In this game, it looked like that might be the case, and Utah shot 21 of 44 from deep, which is a healthy 47.7%. Philadelphia finished 8-25 from three, at 32%.

The way the Sixers wiped out that deficit was:

  • free throws, 35 to 19 attempts
  • overall FG% – 51.6 to 44
  • turnovers – committed 5 fewer than Utah
  • steals – 9 swipes compared to 7
  • offensive rebounding – 8 boards compared to 12

Even though Utah shot better from three and did well on the offensive glass, the Sixers did enough in every other category to wipe out those differences and make this an even game.

And that’s the irony of Mitchell and Gobert complaining about foul calls and discrepancies, because when you chuck 44 three pointers in a game, how many times do you think you’re getting to the free throw line anyway? This was an interesting analytical matchup, and the Sixers won in the peripheral categories to nullify Utah’s three-point shooting.

Bulldozer Embiid

Joel’s post game press conference went nearly 10 minutes and was one of the better ones he’s ever delivered (there have been many good ones).

This was the big takeaway quote, and Derek transcribed it last night and shared it on Twitter:

“…just wanting to destroy everything in my path.”

Geez, what a quote. And look, when you go out and put up 40 and 19 against Gobert and the Jazz, you can say whatever you want. It’s all true. Embiid is playing at a level that we have never seen of any Philadelphia athlete in the last, what, ten years? 15 years? He’s averaging 30 and 12 as a center in the modern day, guard-dominated NBA. His per-36 turnover numbers are 0.1 away from being career lows and he’s getting to the foul line at will. There is literally nobody that can defend him. Not Gobert, not an aging Marc Gasol, who had been very good against him in previous years. There just isn’t an option outside of hard traps, digs, and double teams.

It might sound corny, but hopefully Sixers fans and Philly sports fans can just take a step back and watch and enjoy what Embiid is doing this year. These types of seasons don’t happen very frequently, and when it clicks for an athlete and he or she steps into his prime, those are always very special moments that don’t necessarily last very long. They are fleeting. We should do our best to appreciate these performances while they exist, and just applaud the level of athletic achievement we are witnessing.