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Sixers 117. Wolves 95: Reality Bites, Embiid Gouges

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A dose of reality for the Wolves as they lose for the first time this season

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Well, I had a recap fairly well planned out for this one until the third quarter happened, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid had a fight which resulted in ejections for both of them and almost certain suspensions once the league rules on it. Still, even though that overshadows everything else that happened tonight, let’s talk about the actual game, which the Sixers controlled from early on and won 117-95.

This was always going to be a tough game for the Wolves for a number of reasons, the most obvious one being the Sixers are a better team. They are loaded with talent at every position and look primed to make a run at the Finals this season. They feature three all-stars in their lineup, and their other two starters are Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris, so yeah, that’s a lot of talent.

Further, that talent comes in large sizes. The Sixers are huge, essentially starting two centers, two big forwards, and shooting guard. They are very difficult to match up with, especially for a Wolves squad that has committed to playing small. The Wolves started their usual group tonight, and it was fairly clear from the outset that it was going to be very tough for them in the paint and on the glass.

The only way for the Wolves to stay in this one was to play their best, which includes winning to turnover battle and shooting better than they have from the perimeter. Neither of those things happened. The Wolves forced plenty of Sixers turnovers (22) but committed about as many themselves (21.) Their high volume, low success rate on threes continued as well. They finished 10-35 from three.

Without those two things in the positive column for the Wolves, the Sixers slowly ground them down throughout the first half. There was no big, decisive run in this one, it was just consistent control by the Sixers throughout . It felt like the Wolves were in the game through most of the first half, but the deficit grew steadily, until the halftime buzzer found the Wolvss trailing by 19,

Other than Towns, the Wolves had very little offense early. The Sixers controlled the paint with their size, and the Wolves were unable to make perimeter enough perimeter shots to stay in the game. The Sixers smartly stifled Towns to limit his shot attempts, and dared everyone else to beat them. The Sixers size made it tough at the rim, and the Wolves poor shooters made it tough everywhere else.

Meanwhile, the Sixers were overwhelming the Wolves with their size on the offensive end. Embiid was getting in the paint, and the Sixers dominated the glass. Ultimately they out rebounded the Wolves on the offensive glass 16-6, and overall 56-34. They just dominated in the paint, and there was nothing the Wolves could do about it.

The second half was not really competitive, as the Wolves never got closer that 12, and never looked remotely like getting back into the game. The fight was by far the most exciting part of the night, but that’s going to lead to a suspension for KAT that the Wolves can ill-afford. Embiid goads, but the result is a disaster for the Wolves.

I published a quick article separately on the fight and I still have not seen good video of what set it off, so I won’t get into it further here, other than to note:

The other thing of note from this game is that Ryan Saunders and the Wolves, um, reaffirmed their commitment to playing small. I speculated before the game that the Wolves would have to go to two bigs at least some to counter the Sixers’ size, but they never did. I think this was a stubborn mistake. It’s fine to have a philosophy to play small, but you have to be able to adjust. Saunders refused to do so, staying with the same starting lineup and never going to a lineup featuring two true bigs, even as the Sixers were pounding them inside.

It’s not as if the wings were playing so well that you had to stick with them; In fact, as a group the Wolves wings were quite poor on the night. Why not stick Noah Vonleh or Jordan Bell in there with Towns, let them battle with Embiid, and try to get some rim protection and rebounding in the game? The Wolves weren’t exactly using their speed to counter. They should have tried some size.

In the end though, the Sixers were just too good for the Wolves, which comes as no surprise whatsoever. Now they have that first loss out of the way, and they can focus their continued development. It would help if Towns was available to play on Saturday against the Wizards in Washington, but that’s very unlikely.

Now we just wait for the league to hand down a ruling.