Sixers Outlast Pelicans, Inch Closer to One Seed
Another win against an undermanned team and another step closer to capturing the one seed.
It was ugly but the Sixers won their season-high seventh straight against the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans in a tense 109-107 victory at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night. At 46-21, the Sixers are now three games ahead of the Nets and Bucks for the top spot in the East with five games left to play.
New Orleans was without Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Steven Adams, Josh Hart, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Furkan Korkmaz was the only player out for the Sixers.
The Pelicans dressed just nine players and the Sixers took advantage early. With Adams out, Joel Embiid had his way, scoring 14 in the first quarter and helping the Sixers gain a 32-21 advantage. Seth Curry caught fire early, scoring all 16 of his points before halftime.
New Orleans made some inroads in the second quarter thanks to second-year big man Jaxon Hayes. Hayes outplayed veteran Dwight Howard, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second quarter. Led by Embiid and Ben Simmons (eight points, 10 assists, nine rebounds overall) the Sixers closed the quarter on a nice run to take a 70-54 lead into the half.
Then, everything fell apart in the third. Nobody outside of Embiid could score and the Sixers’ defense showed serious cracks.
The Pelicans’ zone defense made the Sixers look lifeless. After shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 2 of 21 from three in the first half, New Orleans began getting to the paint routinely and knocking down more shots from beyond the arc.
Thanks to a 37-18 quarter, New Orleans took a three-point lead into the fourth. The Pelicans added on to their lead against the Sixers’ bench, which struggled again Friday night. New Orleans’ advantage grew to as much as seven.
The starters finally showed life, going on an 8-0 run and taking the lead back. The teams were on the seesaw for pretty much the rest of the way.
A pair of clutch free throws from Embiid (37 points, 13 rebounds) got the Sixers to within one at 107-106. After a stop, the Sixers were able to move the ball against the zone for a Tobias Harris corner three. That put the Sixers up 109-107 with just over 30 seconds left.
The waning moments of the game wound up being frantic. The Pelicans appeared to turn it over as an errand Lonzo Ball pass went out of bounds. After the play was ruled Sixers ball, the officials went to replay and overturned the call, ruling that Eric Bledsoe did save the basketball before it went out of bounds.
Because it was technically an inadvertent whistle, there had to be a jump ball. Embiid was able to tip it to Danny Green who was doubled in the backcourt, forcing Doc Rivers to use a timeout. The Sixers then were unable to get the ball past half court on the ensuing position, committing an eight-second violation and leaving New Orleans with one more chance.
With 10.7 seconds to go, the Sixers defended a Bledsoe pick-and-roll well, causing a turnover and sealing the win.
It was ugly, but it brings the Sixers one game closer to clinching home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. They’ll get a chance to create more separation Saturday night as they take on former Sixer Jerami Grant and the Pistons.