No Joel Embiid, no problem.
The 76ers didn’t need the MVP candidate Monday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, even seizing a 17-point lead in the first half. But the Grizzlies had too much firepower and battled back.
After the Grizzlies chipped away at their lead, the Sixers eventually took a 122-119 overtime victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers scored the final seven points in overtime to take the three-point victory. Tyrese Maxey scored the last four points. His layup with 26.4 seconds left gave the Sixers a 120-119 advantage. Then he added a breakaway layup right before the final buzzer for good measure.
The final basket was set up by great defense on the Grizzlies’ final possession.
Matisse Thybulle did a solid job defending Ja Morant before Maxey picked him up in the lane. That forced Morant to force a pass in the corner to Zaire Williams, who missed a three-pointer as Danny Green closed out on him. Then Thybulle saved the ball on the baseline before it went out of bounds and heaved an outlet pass to Maxey at midcourt. The point guard raced down the floor and scored a layup.
The victory extended a pair of winning streaks for the Sixers. This marked their fifth straight win. They’ve also won the first four games of a five-game homestand.
That enabled the Sixers to improve to 31-19 overall and 14-10 at home. They’re in third place in the Eastern Conference standings, a half-game behind the first-place Chicago Bulls, who are percentage points ahead of the Miami Heat. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies (35-18) had their three-game winning streak snapped. This was just their fourth loss in 20 games.
“We wanted this one,” said Sixers forward Tobias Harris, whose squad suffered a 126-91 setback to the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum without Embiid and Seth Curry on Dec. 13. The Grizzlies were also without four players in that game, including standout Morant.
“We understood the last time we played them, Joel, Seth not playing,” Harris said. “They’re a hot team. They’re playing great basketball throughout the league. They’ve been kicking butt all around. They kind of embodied themselves with defense, physicality, being tough.”
The Sixers wanted to see where they matched up with them. They talked about matching Memphis’ physicality in Monday morning’s shootaround.
“They’re a team that likes to punk teams and they have punked a lot of teams in this league,” Harris said. “We weren’t going to let that happen tonight. It was a good game, but they are heck of a team as well. They’re playing great basketball.”
Maxey, Harris, Drummond, Thybulle step up
Maxey paced the Sixers with 33 points and eight assists to go with a game-high four blocks. Harris added 31 points, five assists, and two blocks. Andre Drummond, who started in place of Embiid, added 16 points, a game-high 23 rebounds, and three blocks. The Sixers blocked 12 shots on the night.
Meanwhile, Morant showed why he was voted a Western Conference All-Star starter. The third-year point guard finished a game-high 37 points for the Grizzlies, while backcourt mate Desmond Bane finished with 34.
Morant, however, only had three points on 1-for-5 shooting in overtime. Thybulle, a lockdown defender, had a hand in Morant’s overtime struggles. His defense, save and outlet pass on the Grizzlies’ final possession saved the game.
This matchup wasn’t without controversy.
Curry appeared to be fouled on a missed 10-foot attempt that would have won the game at the end of regulation. Doc Rivers rushed the court after regulation to argue the non-call and received a technical foul from referee Eric Lewis.
Bane made the foul shot to give the Grizzlies a one-point advantage at the start of overtime.
Rivers was asked what was said that led to his receiving a technical foul.
“Nothing really,” the coach said. “Eric felt he should call a tech. He told me to stop, but I wasn’t talking to Eric anymore. I was talking to another ref. We weren’t going back and forth. We were talking. He just kind of interceded, which I don’t think they should do. They’re big enough to take care of themselves.
“But I hate getting a tech there. Honestly, it’s an awful tech to get.”
Embiid missed Monday’s game because of a planned rest day. This came after the All-Star center had played in 21 consecutive games, which is the second-longest stretch of his career. Rivers had talked about giving him one game to recharge.
The Sixers were also without Furkan Korkmaz (left knee soreness), Shake Milton (back spasms), and Ben Simmons (refusal to play this season for Sixers).
The team improved to 4-8 in games without Embiid. That’s not bad, considering they lost five of the first six without him. All things considered, one can argue this was the Sixers’ biggest win of the season.
“Don’t count us out,” Harris said of what this victory shows. “We want to play every game with Joel. But tonight, he was able to get his rest and get back to 100 percent. But at the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of hungry guys who work on their games and are ready to show improvement.
“This [win] just shows our morale as a team. Even after the game, Joel jumping on the court with us. That’s just who we are as a group. That’s our chemistry. That’s the love we have for one another in the locker room.”
Exciting end of regulation
Morant split a pair of foul shots with 46.2 seconds left to give the Grizzlies a 109-108 lead. Curry responded on the ensuing possession with a four-foot jumper to put the Sixers up one.
The score remained that way until Maxey stepped to the foul line with 14.9 seconds left. The second-year point guard split a pair of free throws to give the Sixers a 111-109 advantage.
However, Morant responded on the ensuing possession by making an off-balance basket while being fouled by Drummond with 7.4 seconds to play. The Sixers tried to challenge the play, but the foul was confirmed. So Morant stepped to the foul line and missed the shot. Curry grabbed the rebound, raced up the court and misfired on a 10-footer with three-tenths of a second left. The shooting guard appeared to be fouled on the play by Jaren Jackson Jr.
That’s when Rivers rushed the court and received a technical. Bane’s technical foul shot gave the Grizzlies a 112-111 advantage.
Three-point shooting woes
The Sixers and Grizzlies combined to make just 1 of 13 three-pointers in the third quarter. The Sixers missed all seven of their attempts, while Memphis went 1-for-6. Three-point shooting was actually the Grizzlies’ Achilles’ heel, as they made just 6 of 30 for the game. Other than Bane, Memphis shot 1-for-21 from three.
Homecoming for Jenkins
Taylor Jenkins has ties to Philadelphia.
The Grizzlies coach was a student at Penn, graduating with an economics degree in 2007. As a student, Jenkins would come to Sixers games. Back then, the Wells Fargo Center was named the Wachovia Center.
“I remember seeing AI,” he said of Allen Iverson. “One guy that sticks out to me is Kyle Korver, the old-school uniforms with the box cut sleeves. Kyle, I actually coached him in Atlanta. I spent time with him there. So we reminisced there a little bit about Philadelphia days, his young days here, too, so great times here.”
Jenkins witnessed great matchups as a fan at Sixers games. He spoke of the energy in the building and the passion and uniqueness of Sixers fans. He still makes a point to go down memory lane whenever he’s back in Philly. Jenkins had a cheesesteak Monday on Penn’s campus.
“I had to check that off the list,” he said.
But as a non-basketball-playing student, Jenkins never envisioned being an NBA coach while at Penn.
He did, however, help start a basketball league for youths in West Philadelphia during his sophomore year.
“That was probably my highlight from my college career aside from getting a great education,” he said of his three years with the league. He made “friendships, but basically kind of rolled up my sleeves up in West Philadelphia in coaching boys and girls 10 to 13 years old. It has kind of sparked me to get to this point here. I never thought I would be a head coach.”
After graduating, Jenkins interned with the San Antonio Spurs basketball operation department during the 2007-08 season.
He transitioned that into an assistant-coaching job with the Spurs’ NBA G-League affiliate, the Austin Toros, from 2008 to 2012. Jenkins was elevated to the Toros’ head coach for the 2012-13 season.
Following that season, he had assistant-coaching stints with the Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks before being named the Grizzlies’ coach on June 11, 2019.