Welcome back, NBA.

After the abomination that was the All Star Game, we got one of the most entertaining regular season Sixers contests of the past few years. They looked like absolute dreck in the first half, with Desmond Bane transforming into 1994-1995 Dana Barros, then the Sixers mounted a furious comeback, wiped out a 17-point deficit, and took the W late, going ahead on a clutch Tobias Harris corner three and Joel Embiid transition flush.

The final 3:13 of this game was insane, and featured some of the highest-level basketball we’ve seen all year. It was like watching a playoff game out there, just two of the best teams in the league trading possessions that resulted in plays like this one:

Confession: when you do this for a living, you just sort of sit there and type while watching a game, but that play made me get up off the couch. What an athletic play on BOTH SIDES (even if Ja could have been whistled for a charge there). The way Morant elevates is incredible, and Embiid’s timing in rim protection is a sight to behold. That play was like watching the philosophical collision between the unstoppable force and the immovable object, with the latter coming out on top.

“It should change the tone about (Joel Embiid),” said Doc Rivers after the game. “Not in the huddle, but outwardly. Joel is a two-way player. If you take away what someone does best, what else can they do to help the team? We ask our guys that every night. Tonight, it was Joel. If you took away his offense, what else did he do? Well, he had six blocks, he had 19 rebounds, he had six assists. That tells you how great the guy is.”

Embiid shot 7-25 from the floor, but 19 rebounds, 6 blocks, 6 assists, and a 13-17 free throw line really contributed big time to the win.

Clutch time performance

This was an excellent exercise in executing down the stretch. With Memphis up 100-98 and a little more than three minutes on the clock, the following possessions took place:

  • PHI: Embiid foul line jumper, good
  • MEM: pick and roll, Morant finds Jaren Jackson Jr. on a funky lob
  • PHI: Harden iso, fires second side, Embiid misses 3
  • MEM: JJJ putback dunk after initial Bane miss and offensive rebound
  • PHI: Harden tough corner three after Tobias Harris does nothing with it
  • MEM: Embiid insane block, Memphis picks up loose ball, hits one of two free throws
  • PHI: Harden iso, P.J. Tucker offensive rebound, Tobias Harris corner 3
  • MEM: Morant misses floater, Embiid run out and dunk
  • MEM: three chances to tie, three missed threes

And then the Sixers put it away at the foul line.

When you add it up, they scored on three of their four possessions in that stretch, then got the defensive stop and transition bucket. It was clutch shooting all around, with Tobias Harris stepping up following some REALLY iffy fourth quarter sequences. There was one possession where the Sixers were down four and he totally air balled a three, which resulted in a collective groan across the region. And even on the Harden corner three, Harris hesitated and gave the ball back instead of shooting, which put Harden in a tough spot, so for him to step up late and get over the confidence hump was big.

“(The win) really just says what it’s said all year: we hang in there,” Rivers added. “We kept fighting. We had nothing. The first quarter was as bad as we could play defensively. They literally scored I felt like every time. And then we fouled every time. They got the score and then set their defense up the entire first half. That’s what it felt like. Then in the second half, we just moved the ball. They’re a long team. They challenge you to pass and they challenge you to execute. And I don’t think we executed worth a darn in the first half. In the second half, every timeout we got something. We ran stuff. We executed. We were in the right spot. We trusted the pass, and that’s big for us.”

For some added context, the Sixers are now 20-11 in clutch time games, which is defined as any contest that is within five points with five or fewer minutes on the clock. That’s a 64.5 winning percentage, which is 5th in the NBA. They shoot a league-high 42.6% from three in clutch time, 82% from the line, which is 7th, and post a 93.7 defensive rating, which is second best. All of that was on display Thursday night.

Back on board?

I know we’ve talked about keeping this team at arm’s length, and for good reason. They’ve bombed out in the second round so many times that they haven’t earned anyone’s trust.

But shit like this makes me want to believe: