On Friday afternoon the Philadelphia 76ers played the Memphis Grizzlies in what was officially a scrimmage to prepare for the resumption of the NBA regular season.
It turned into a major announcement to the rest of the NBA’s Eastern Conference: Be afraid. Be VERY afraid.
The 76ers defeated the Grizzlies, 90-83, at The Arena in Disney World’s Wide World of Sports complex. It is the first action for the Sixers since a win over Detroit on March 11.
Although the final score was relatively close (it is not a real Sixers game without a second half letdown), when coach Brett Brown had his main guys in there for the first half, it was not even a contest.
One could say the 76ers did not skip a beat after a four-month layoff but, honestly, they looked better than the did before the shutdown.
76ers leave Grizz ‘Shaken’
How did it look? Darn good.
After a bit of a slow start at the beginning, the Sixers steamrollered the Grizzlies. They were up by as much as 29 points and held a 54-28 lead at halftime.
- The defense was the of the suffocating variety the Sixers were expected to play before the season. Memphis has come nice weapons in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. but shot just 28.6% from the floor as a team in the first two quarters.
- New power forward Ben Simmons still had six assists in the first half and even tried a no-hesitation three-pointer from the corner. In the second half he would drill a three-pointer that would have excited the crowd _ if one was allowed.
- Milton did not have gaudy stats but he ran the show, hit a three-pointer and did not back down on defense. Most teams will see him as the weak link defensively in the starting lineup, so his play on that end was important.
- Al Horford did not have much of an impact statistically but when he came in (playing with Joel Embiid for a few minutes even) he kept the Sixers momentum rolling.
Embiid avoids Shake Shack
Since everything with the team’s success revolves around Joel Embiid, the biggest news out of the scrimmage might have been that Embiid showed up not looking like he spent the down times at Shake Shack and Chick-fil-a.
Embiid played just 13 first-half minutes but he scored 10 points and he tied with Josh Richardson with a +12 in the plus-minus rankings.
As someone who admits he can get out of shape by missing even a couple games, it was a positive sign for Sixers fans that Embiid looked like his usual self: shooting threes, posting down low, rolling on the floor for loose balls and blocking shots.
He was not Nikola Jokic ‘wow look at hime’ level of fitness but Embiid looked spry and healthy and that was a pleasant sight for fans.
Pelle the hero
This was a scrimmage, not even an exhibition game, but Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins tried much harder than you would expect to try and win it.
While Brett Brown played all 15 players, with no one getting more than 22 minutes, Memphis went just 10 deep. Morant, hot-shooting guard Dillon Brooks and Jackson Jr. all put in about 28 minutes .
Memphis may not be the Los Angelles Lakers but they are a playoff team in the tough Western Conference in the current standings. Not surprisingly, the Grizzlies cut into the deficit in the second half and got as close as five points.
The Sixers subs were able to stave them off thanks to an unexpected source of offense: Norvell Pelle
Known for his shot-blocking on defense, Pelle scored some key buckets down the stretch. He even hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer that hit nothing but net and had the Sixers bench going crazy in celebration.
In nine minutes, 47 seconds, Pelle finished with nine points, three rebounds and two blocks.
Not only was it a good effort for a third-string center, it should be a boost of confidence for Pelle.
After being called up from the G-League Delaware Blue Coats , Pelle initially played well but then he struggled on a West Coast trip that included the Lakers and Clippers. By the time of the shutdown, he was pretty much a benchwarmer.
With Embiid’s durability always a question, there may be a time when Pelle will be called upon to contribute in real games. That he is starting up play on a good note may prove important later on.
At halftime Sixers fans were probably wondering if they would sweep Milwaukee in the playoffs or have a letdown and allow the Bucks to win one game. They looked that good.
The best news was everyone appeared to be in shape and all on the same page. As a team that was dysfunctional for most of the season, it was surprising how smooth things went in their first non-practice action since March 11.
The Sixers definitely sent a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference: We are the team you thought we were going to be.
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