ORLANDO — Thursday’s game was all about momentum.
The 76ers headed into their contest with the Orlando Magic looking to build off their victory over the Toronto Raptors two nights earlier. The hope was their will to win would bode well for them against the upstart squad.
It turns out the Magic never had a chance.
The Sixers rolled to a 116-92 victory at the Amway Center on the final day of 2020. This game got out of hand fast. At one point, the Magic (4-1) had 35 points, but trailed by 37. Philly led by as much as 38 points.
For the Sixers (4-1), this was a game of firsts. Ben Simmons made his first three-point attempt of the season, Matisse Thybulle scored his first points of the season, and the victory catapulted the Sixers into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers put on a three-point clinic on a night they were able to rest their starters in the fourth quarter.
They made a season-high 15 threes in 33 attempts (45.5%). Seth Curry made 5 of 7 en route to scoring 21 points. Tobias Harris made 3 of 4 and finished with 20 points to go with nine rebounds. Thybulle shot 2-for-4 behind the three-point line while scoring nine points. Dwight Howard (seven points, five rebounds) even made his lone three-point attempt.
Joel Embiid, who made 1 of 2 three-pointers, tied Curry for top-scorer honors with 21 to go with nine rebounds.
Simmons, who finished with nine points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, showed what he’s capable of doing if he shoots the ball.
The 6-foot-10 “facilitator” was left unguarded in the corner as Embiid brought the ball up. Noticing that, the center quickly fired him the ball. Simmons took one step to the right and buried a 24-footer to give the Sixers a 12-9 lead 3 minutes, 53 seconds into the game.
The crowd, which a sizable portion was made up of Sixers fans, erupted in applause. Simmons had been criticized for his lack of three-point attempts.
This was his first three-point attempt of the season. He made 2 of 7 last season. Simmons went 0-for-17 during the first two seasons in what were mostly long heaves at the end of quarters or halves.
Simmons initially took exception to being asked about his three-pointer.
“What do you want me to say?” he said. “I came down, you know Aaron Gordon went under [Danny Green’s] pick, Joel threw it to me in the corner. I let it go.”
But that was a shot Simmons didn’t take on Tuesday against the Raptors when they sagged off him. This time, he took advantage of it.
“Joel threw the pass,” he said. “He knew I was going to put it up. Those are shots I work on, corner threes. I feel comfortable taking it. So I knocked it down.”
Meanwhile, Thybulle scored his first points of the season on a three-point play with 8:31 left in the half. Then the reserve swingman buried a three-pointer a little over a minute later. He followed that up with a second three-pointer with 6:07 left in the half.
Thybulle missed his only three field-goal attempts, including one three-pointer, in the first four games.
“This was something I was looking for,” he said of scoring his first points. “I think I needed it to a certain degree. I’m glad it finally came. I’m looking forward to keeping it rolling.”
This was the second time the Sixers played with fans in the stands this season. They played in front of 300 fans in Sunday’s road loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But here in Orlando, it was hard to tell the severity of this pandemic. Many people were walking around maskless and not practicing social distancing.
“I mean, listen, I don’t want to take a shot at any state, but my God yesterday, I was under my bed I was scared,” Doc Rivers said. “People are walking around like there’s nothing here. I’m surprised.”
He felt safer at the arena, where the Magic had 3,247 fans in attendance. But Rivers was surprised by how open and maskless Orlando is.
Asked if he felt safe, Rivers responded “I do in the arena.”
The coach pointed out that his players are doing a good job of understanding that, despite going from to state to state, they still have the same NBA protocols.
“I think the league has done a really good job,” he said. “At least you know before we went, they made sure we knew restaurants are opening in Orlando. They’re just not open for you.
“I think that was a very good thing that our league did.”
This trip was homecoming for Rivers, Harris, and Howard.
Rivers began his coaching career with the Magic during the 1999-2000 season and coached them until Nov. 17, 2003. Harris was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks in a trade on Feb. 21, 2013. The Magic traded him to the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 16, 2016. Meanwhile, the Magic selected Howard as the first-overall pick of the 2004 draft. He spent his first eight seasons in Orlando.
“It looks totally different, a lot of places, when I first got here,” Howard, a 17th-year veteran said of Orlando. " “It does bring back a lot of memories, you know the times that we shared here in Orlando, a great city, a great place.”