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76ers 118, Wolves 112: An Interconference Rivalry in the Making

The Process outlasts the Wolves in a tough overtime loss

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is full of young exciting players who are on the brink of stardom, and tonight’s matchup between the Wolves and the Philadelphia 76ers featured some of that preeminent athletic talent with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons stepping foot on the same court as Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s this young talent that makes these two teams likely adversaries for years to come. And in the era of point guards dominating the NBA, this matchup between Towns and Embiid is also an exciting case for big men still holding relevance in this league.

The Wolves got off to an early 10-4 start in this one, seeming to capitalize on Philadelphia’s lack of momentum coming into tonight on the tail end of a four-game losing streak. But the Sixers stayed within striking distance for the entire game with the help of Joel Embiid’s crafty big-man play.

For the Wolves it was again Jimmy Butler who kept them from falling out of this one early, scoring 18 points in the first half along with four rebounds and two assists. (He finished with 38/6/3.)

Toward the end of the second quarter, Simmons started converting clutch passes in transition and the Sixers’ supporting cast started hitting shots, which helped Philadelphia remain within reach at the end of the half. Despite turning the ball over 12 times compared to Minnesota’s two in the first half, the Sixers out-rebounded the Wolves 25-19 and shot 50% from the field. It’s clear that, while the Wolves made it hard for Philly by putting pressure on the ball and forcing steals, they still have to work on contesting shots and crashing the boards.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

To start the second half, the Sixers quietly took their first lead of the game right out of the gate. Philadelphia came into tonight fourth in the league in pace, and it shows when Ben Simmons comes flying down the court and zips a one-handed pass to an open teammate beneath the basket. It’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

This pace seemed to have the Wolves in a bit of a frenzy throughout the third quarter as they struggled to keep up and things got a little frantic. The Sixers likely would have taken the lead heading into the fourth if it weren’t for KAT’s back-to-back blocks on Embiid that rallied the Wolves to a two-point lead.

The fourth quarter saw more of the Jimmy Buckets Show and why he’s the piece that this Minnesota team has needed so desperately in years past. He started off the quarter by scoring six straight points and drawing a charge. I can’t stress how gratifying it is as a fan for your star player to be out there sacrificing his body for the sake of his team. I really hope that effort permeates throughout the ranks of this young Wolves team.

The end of the game continued at a steady pace of back-and-forth basketball, with Embiid making some clutch plays from the elbow and the perimeter, and Dario Saric knocking down shots from deep that the Wolves for some reason kept daring him to take.

With Minnesota down by two with a little over a minute left, they got three open-look three-pointers on the same possession before Jimmy Butler finally found the bottom of the net with the last one to put the Wolves up by one.

Following a Ben Simmons bucket on the other end, Butler put up another three the next time down the floor to take the lead again (seriously, this guy is everything and more than I expected), which was matched by a couple of Embiid free throws for Philadelphia.

With 14 seconds left on the clock, Tom Thibodeau chose to forego taking his last timeout and let Butler take the ball into his own hands, but unfortunately Jimmy’s lucky streak ended at two and the Wolves found themselves in overtime for the second time this season.

However, for a team that plays just eight players, overtime was not where the Wolves wanted to find themselves. Philly came out strong, scoring the first six points of OT with Taj Gibson fouling out almost immediately, bringing the Wolves’ rotation down to seven.

Philly also converted on this play in OT, which they successfully ran toward the end of the fourth quarter, too:

It’s a simple play that shouldn’t work twice in one game against an NBA team, but that highlights the issues Minnesota is dealing with in the area of help defense.

From there, the rest of this one unraveled pretty quickly. Ultimately the Wolves should have won this game off of Philadelphia’s 24 turnovers, but the Sixers’ ball movement just proved to be too much for Minnesota’s defense. Ben Simmons had a pretty bad game, scoring just seven points and committing seven turnovers, but he and the rest of the team were still able to find open guys for easy buckets.

Embiid proved that he’s as much the face of the nu-big man movement around the league as KAT or anyone else. He finished with 28/12/8 and got the best of Towns tonight. That big man matchup — and the matchup between these two teams as a whole — will be something to behold in the years to come.

Stray Observations:

  • One of Embiid’s best traits is his footwork. We’ve seen it with his rendition of the Dream Shake, but he’s also developed some great footwork out on the perimeter, which makes him especially tough to guard because of his outside shot. He has great vision too. As great as Simmons is, the Sixers still run much of their offense through Embiid because of his own creativity and decision-making.
  • The Wolves had active hands on defense all night, which is a great thing to see. There were a lot of deflections that ended up in crucial transition points.
  • I’m still not sure what the reason was behind KAT’s technical foul between the third and fourth quarter, but it ended up being pretty costly seeing how this game ended up heading to OT.