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November 09, 2018

Instant observations: The legend of Joel Embiid gets even bigger in dramatic Sixers OT win vs. Hornets

So, I guess the Sixers are guaranteed at least 42 wins this season.

Philadelphia's home court advantage seems insurmountable this season, as a 133-132 win over the Hornet Friday night moved the squad to a perfect 7-0 on home hardwood (with 34 home games to go).

Trailing by three, a shot clock violation with 46 seconds to play in the fourth quarter gave the Sixers new life after blowing a 21-point lead earlier in the game. Joel Embiid drilled what will from henceforth be known as the "jab-step three" to tie things 11 seconds later.

Kemba Walker made a layup to make it 119-117 with 25.7 to play, but Embiid had another answer, draining two free throws to tie it again. Walker didn't have any magic left for the last possession of regulation as overtime ensued.

The Sixers led for most of the extra five minutes but weren't able to open a big enough lead to make fans' palms stop sweating. With 20.5 seconds to go in OT, Simmons made one of two at the line to keep Charlotte in it, 132-129. He made up for it with a block on the opposite end. An Embiid board and free throw followed to iced the game.

Simmons dished dimes, Embiid was a beast under the hoop and Dario Saric looked like the 2017-18 model after a frustratingly slow start. Those and my other observations from Friday heart-stopping action:

The good

• As we mentioned, Saric appears to be out of his season-opening slump. The big forward hit a pair of early threes and scored 18 points (making four three-pointers) and pulled down nine rebounds.

• This counts as a rebound, two points and a poster:

• Nice to have guys all across the roster who can hit open long balls. Wilson Chandler, the new offseason acquisition who missed a few games due to injury to start the year hit his first trey, a wide open bomb after a swing pass to put the Sixers ahead in the first quarter. Jonah Bolden — getting surprise minutes in the first — hit one too.

• Another point on Bolden, who was drafted in 2017's second round. With Mike Muscala out Bolden more or less got the veterans minutes at power forward (or center). He made the most of them helping out with five points and four boardsX.

• Markelle Fultz is getting more and more confidence with the ball. It started early this season with taking open shots, and has continued as he has taken advantage of opportunities to get to the hoop. His touch around the rim leaves something to be desired but he has generated offense by getting free throws or even offensive rebound chances for his teammates.

It wasn't his best game — he had five fouls before the end of the third — but he still making some progress each game.

• Lest you forget how good a passer last year's Rookie of the Year was, when he's not turning it over at a record clip he's dishing beautiful dimes like this one:

• I don't think anyone will argue that the Sixers have two NBA All-Stars on their roster this year. Here's a great encapsulation of why Simmons and Embiid are so special, as the pair selflessly set one another up for a big score:

• You could call the win Friday a block party — the team had 15 total (more than doubling their 5.8 rejections per game). Embiid led the way with four, but six other players blocked shots: Fultz, Saric, Covington (4), Simmons (3), Chandler, Amir Johnson and Landry Shamet.

• Philly entered Friday's tilt as one of the five best rebounding teams in the NBA (49.2 per game) and assisting teams in the NBA (25.7). As has become form, they out-rebounded Charlotte 58-49.

• For what it's worth, the Sixers played with poise and confidence in the overtime frame, and despite making a few mistakes — mainly some really bad fouls (some of them questionable whistles) — they looked like a veteran contender in crunch time.

The bad

• It was as slow a start (at least for three minutes) as it gets for the Sixers, as the team fell behind 8-0 with several turnovers and missed shots before Embiid drilled a jumper at the 9-minute mark.

• Said turnovers continue to be absolutely atrocious for the Sixers. During their second half struggles, the team's frequent failure to even attempt a shot during a possession was crushing. The Sixers have surrendered the ball the fourth most times in the league (16.1) and coughed it up 16 more times Friday.

• What is it about the third quarter? Over the last two seasons the Sixers have famously blown third quarter leads left and right and despite their win vs. Charlotte, Philly saw its 65-50 halftime advantage to dwindle just a bit to 11 points. The Sixers average a -0.9 point margin in third quarters this season — in the bottom 10 of the league. This accounts for their entire plus/minus margin this year (of -0.6 points per game).

• The Charlotte momentum continued into the fourth quarter, as the Hornets chipped the lead to a single point five minutes into the final frame and took their first lead since the first a possession later. Of course, that's when Embiid checked back into the game and went off. The big man had 42 points and 18 rebounds — and ice in his veins. He's the reason they won Friday and no one else.

• Despite their fast pace of play, the Sixers prior to Friday averaged just over 87 field goal attempts per game — sixth fewest in the NBA. They shot the ball 93 times — with overtime to help. That's less that the Lakers average in 48 minute games.

The ugly

• A totally out of the blue technical foul call on Brett Brown as the second half wound to a close is never pretty.

• It was a slow and ugly game down the stretch too, as perhaps a closely officiated game saw 21 fouls called during the fourth quarter alone. In part due to this, Embiid did get to the free throw line a ridiculous 22 times (he made 19).

• If you're a Sixers' fan you hate Kemba Walker. Last time these two teams faced off he scored 37. In Friday's rematch, he was clutch as can be in the fourth and hit a dagger three to put the Hornets up by five. He led Charlotte with 30.

• Also, these late game collapses, they need to stop if the team wants to start winning games against playoff contending teams.

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