By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) January 21, 2017
Philadelphia 93, Portland 92 – Box Score
Keep shooting. That’s been Brett Brown’s advice to Robert Covington all season. Even as he shot 31.0% from the field in November, and then 26.7% from three in December, and the home crowds at the Wells Fargo Center were booing him, the Sixers head coach knew it was only a matter of time before Covington’s shot came back around.
Friday night, Brown’s faith in his player paid off in a big way, as Robert Covington hit two of the most clutch three-pointers you’ll see in the final minute of a game, helping the Sixers pull out a win over the Blazers despite having Joel Embiid stuck on the sidelines. First, he knocked down a triple with 38 seconds left (following a Dario Saric rebound off a Gerald Henderson airball), cutting Philadelphia’s deficit from 4 to 1. Then, with his team trailing by 2, Covington confidently stepped into this shot from Steph Curry-range, right in the face of former disgruntled Sixer, Evan Turner.
Sixers' Robert Covington drills deep game-winning three over Blazers' Evan Turner, delighting Joel Embiid (all angles) pic.twitter.com/vqB74vnwN4
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) January 21, 2017
You really couldn’t have drawn up a better redemption story for Covington. The game-winning lay-up a couple weeks ago was great, but this victory was on the back of his outside shooting, which had abandoned him for a couple months and had fair-weather fans wondering if he was even a viable NBA player, terrific defense and a larger sample size showing he can shoot be damned. Against the Blazers, Covington finished with 22 points on 5-12 shooting from three, and one more night as a hero.
Aside from Covington, the rest of the starting frontcourt carried the load for the Sixers. Joel Embiid left the game with a hyperextended left knee in the second half. Multiple times, he went back and forth from the locker room to the bench, lobbying with the training staff to come back in the game. Wisely, they decided to hold him out as a precautionary measure, because as much fun as a win over Portland in January was, there is no reason to risk your franchise player being out there when he’s a little gimpy. It broke his 10-game streak of games with 20 or more points, but Embiid still finished with a terrific line of 18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks in just 22 minutes.
Also, Ersan Ilyasova finished with a season-high 24 points on 5-6 shooting from three. He has been solid the last couple games after going through a cold stretch of his own (which was inevitable after how hot he was when he first joined the Sixers). Ilyasova also took a crucial charge in the closing minutes that the refs upheld upon replay review; he leads the league in that category.
Philadelphia needed those three to all have big games, because they received zero help from the second unit. The Sixers bench shot a ghastly 7-36 (19.4%) from the field. Sergio Rodriguez was a -20 in only 17 minutes of action, and despite that clutch rebound and assist to Covington late, Dario Saric was not helpful with a 1-12 night shooting.
Once again, the Sixers also primarily won the game through defense. Damian Lillard had 16 points on 7-8 shooting in the first quarter and finished with 30 points, but had a very un-point guard line of 1 assist and 5 turnovers. The rest of the Blazers struggled to score, particularly CJ McCollum, who shot just 5-18 from the field. As Derek Bodner pointed out, the Sixers continue to charge up the NBA leaderboard in defensive categories.
After holding the Blazers to 89.9 points per 100 possessions, the #sixers are now the 9th ranked defense in the NBA.
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) January 21, 2017
Philadelphia has won 6 of its last 7 and 8 of 10 overall. The team has won 5 straight at home with the Wells Fargo Center rocking like an Iverson-era playoff run. Most importantly, Joel Embiid had a MRI come back clean and expects to play Tuesday (having already been scheduled to sit out Saturday’s back-to-back). Years of patience have paid off for Sixers fans and this is just the beginning of our reward. Enjoy it.