Coming off of a comeback victory against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers returned to the court on Monday night to host the Orlando Magic for the first time this year.
Earlier in the season, the Sixers paid a visit to Orlando to face the Magic in back-to-back games. Despite being shorthanded without key players such as Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers managed to pick up two wins over the Magic, expanding their win streak over Orlando to ten games in a row.
When the Sixers faced the Magic on Monday night, they did it fully healthy as a questionable Embiid was cleared for action for the third-straight game.
For the first time since he was traded a few seasons back, former first-overall pick Markelle Fultz played at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philly. Fultz didn’t receive the warmest welcome on Monday. When announced in the Magic’s starting five, Fultz heard scattered boos.
While Fultz didn’t let the negative crowd reception get to him, as he scored all four of the Magic’s points within the first half of the quarter, his team struggled to help out on the offensive end. Meanwhile, the Sixers had their way with Orlando’s defense early.
Within the first six minutes, the 76ers went on a 17-4 run, forcing the Magic into a timeout. After the quick break, the Sixers expanded the lead to 21-4, with the Magic continuing to show signs of struggling on both ends of the floor for the next couple of minutes.
The Sixers wrapped up the first quarter with a 30-17 lead, led by Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid.
Out in front big to start the quarter, the Sixers rolled with an all-bench lineup consisting of Georges Niang, Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, and Montrezl Harrell. After a hot first quarter, the Sixers kept the ball rolling, getting off to an 8-2 run and forcing multiple turnovers within the first couple of minutes.
Orlando struggled to gain a rhythm through the first 15 minutes of the matchup, as they drained just 11 percent of their shots from deep and knocked down fewer than 30 percent of their field goals. The Sixers led by as many as 20 points, and they looked to continue building on that when they brought their starters back into the mix with a little over seven minutes left in the first half.
It wouldn’t be easy for Philly, though. Outside of Joel Embiid, the Sixers weren’t getting much scoring production. In his first couple of minutes back on the floor, Embiid accounted for all nine of Philly’s points during that stretch. The offensive struggles carried over to the defensive end, as the Magic put together their best run of the game so far by outscoring the Sixers 12-9 and forcing Philly into a timeout.
The timeout didn’t work wonders for the Sixers. Overall, Orlando fired up a 35-point quarter. With drastic improvements on both ends of the floor, the Magic got the game within ten points before going into halftime.
Going into halftime with all of the momentum, the Magic had the game within ten and got off to a hot start in the second half. Within roughly six minutes, the Magic outscored the Sixers 14-11. As Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner found success from the field, the Magic had the game within single digits.
It wouldn’t be long before the Magic were within arm’s reach. Eventually, a Gary Harris three-pointer helped the Magic get within two points with four minutes left to go in the quarter. Right away, the Sixers followed up with a quick five points from a James Harden three and a Tyrese Maxey driving reverse layup.
Minutes later, the Magic managed to tie the game up, courtesy of a Banchero three. With the game tied at 87, Orlando snagged its first lead of the half as Gary Harris knocked down a three. While Georges Niang responded right away with a three of his own, the Magic tacked on four points before ending the third quarter out in front 94-90.
Before the Sixers started rolling their starters back out in the fourth, Matisse Thybulle was making an early impact in the fourth quarter. The defensive standout might’ve missed on an impressive drive in traffic, but he followed up by hitting a pull-up three.
The Sixers were looking to turn the momentum around, but a Tyrese Maxey offensive foul, which was reviewed for a flagrant, was slightly deflating. Although Maxey didn’t get slapped with a flagrant, the foul would stand. The Sixers brought their star center Embiid back out onto the floor, hoping he had another big fourth quarter in him.
Embiid would immediately hit on a signature 20-foot jumper on his first touch. However, he struggled on the other end of the floor. Magic big man Moe Wagner worked the paint, which led to him living at the free throw line for a few minutes as he took three trips to the charity stripe.
As the Sixers struggled to answer Orlando’s offensive attack, which featured a 12-2 run following Embiid’s first basket since checking back in, the Magic established an eight-point lead with a little over five minutes left to go in the matchup.
From that point on, the Magic took control of the game. While the Sixers had a few moments where they teased a potential role reversal, they couldn’t get out of their own way down the stretch. With a 119-109 loss, the Sixers fall short for the first time in eight games.