The Philadelphia 76ers welcomed the 18-32 Sacramento Kings to their home court on Saturday night. When the Sixers faced the Kings earlier this season, they did so without some of their top players in Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry.
Despite being so shorthanded, the Sixers came out on top with a win on the road. This time around, in late January, the 76ers hosted the Kings and had a majority of their roster healthy as Embiid and Harris were on the floor, and Seth Curry made his return after a multi-game absence.
Meanwhile, the Kings were missing their top player in De'Aaron Fox. Considering the circumstances for both teams, many believed the 29-19 Sixers, who were coming in on a three-game win streak, would defeat the Kings, who have lost five straight, with ease. But as we've learned this year, the Sixers can't assume that any matchup will be a cakewalk as every team in the NBA can shock you on any given night.
Sacramento and the Sixers had a tight battle in the first quarter. The Kings outdueled the Sixers in the first 12 minutes as they put up 31 points while holding Philly to 27. In the second quarter, Sacramento found some separation as they went on a 30-23 run.
By halftime, the Sixers trailed 11 points. They were losing by as much as 17 points in the first half. Philly's first-half performance was uninspiring, but they've proven to be a second-half team often throughout the year. Therefore, Sacramento found out that a double-digit lead through two quarters wasn't nearly enough to put the Sixers away as Doc Rivers made some changes to get Joel Embiid going in the second half.
What Turned the Game Around?
"[It was] just an adjustment," said coach Doc Rivers when asked what was different about Embiid in the second half. "We moved him in different spots. So he can see where the traps are coming from. It wasn't a game for him to be on the post tonight because of the way they were trapping every play. It was more elbows and rolls."
In his first 16 minutes on the floor, Joel Embiid shot 1-5 from the field, scoring most of his 12 points from the free-throw line. As Embiid drew aggressive defensive looks from the Kings, it seemed Sacramento found a way to slow the All-Star down. However, the second-half changes unlocked the big man and helped the Sixers find a way to climb out in front.
"[I was] just being aggressive," explained Embiid, regarding his second-half changes. "They just kept coming and coming and coming. So I think the difference in the second half was just getting into different positions and then also attack off the dribble. I thought as a team, we did a good job of executing and getting stops. And offensively just executing. And they gave me a lot of space to do what I do best."
The Sixers didn't rally and completely turn the game into a blowout victory as they've done so in the past after slow first halves against lesser opponents, but they formed a comeback and got out in front when they needed to. Following a 24-point second-half showing by Joel Embiid, the Sixers took down the Kings 103-101 and picked up their 30th win of the year in thrilling fashion.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.