The 76ers have doubled their win total (and then some) from last year before the All-Star break even began. With the increased win total, it’s clear Philadelphia has played better basketball. And when teams play better basketball they are more likely to make better plays. This season has already been filled with game winners, alley oops and breathtaking passes. Although the first half of the season has come and gone weeks ago, most people use the All-Star break to split the season into two. January was very good to the 76ers, but Philadelphia hit a mini speed bump without Joel Embiid in the line-up. Until the 76ers ended the first half winning three of four games even without Embiid. Questions surround Bryan Colangelo and how he’s handled the many situations involving Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and Embiid, and those concerns are real, because fans and the public believe Colangelo has been far from honest. Few teams impressed as Philly did since the beginning of 2017. Of course Philly still only has 21 wins with little chance to make the postseason, but this year has been fun. And here are the 10 most memorable plays from season so far. (Disclaimer: I didn’t watch every single second of the 76ers this season, but I did see most seconds).
10. Joel Embiid’s first basket
This is sort of an honorary spot on the list. Embiid made a beautiful move to score his first NBA points, but it made this list to symbolize what Embiid playing has meant for this team. The excitement in Wells Fargo opening night’s hard to explain. During the three years Sam Hinkie managed the 76ers, the arena rocked on several different occasions, but Embiid’s debut was different. Philadelphia is ways away from competing in the Eastern Conference, but this basket against OKC began Embiid’s career, and that has to be one of the most important plays that happened this season.And he blocked Russell Westbrook on the following possession.
9. Sergio to Henderson to open the season
Probably the most surprising play on this list, but Philadelphia opened the season with an alley-oop from Sergio Rodriguez to Gerald Henderson, and it was awesome.
8. T.J. McConnell wins it in Orlando
It’s hard to be snubbed for a rising stars game, but that’s what happened with T.J. McConnell. McConnell has more win shares than any guard from the 2015 draft class. He’s outperformed all of them, and he wasn’t even drafted. It helps that McConnell has played more games and minutes than most of them, but he’s really turned the corner this season. It’s unclear what his long-term role on the 76ers will be, but for right now, without Ben Simmons playing, he’s been playing above average as lead guard. McConnell’s second game winner of the season wasn’t as exciting as his first, but it’s remarkable he won two games for the 76ers in the past six weeks.
7. Embiid dunks in Milwaukee
6.Dario Saric’s Best Pass
I want to put this at No. 1 because it was such a beautiful pass. The Spurs will do it. LeBron James and James Harden have a certain flare to their game. Saric has been a treat in the open court for most of this season. It takes time to develop the necessary chemistry and trust with your teammates, but Saric has a knack for the flashy pass. After seeing Saric make this pass against the Kings I immediately watched a Jason Williams highlight tape. Dunks and blocks are great, but there’s something mystical about a beautiful pass, even if it doesn’t register as an assist.
5. Joel Embiid dunks on Nene
Embiid hasn’t played a game since this dunk, but wow. Embiid opened a nationally televised game dunking all over Nene.
4. Dario blocks the Raptors
The thing about Dario is he’s a winner. He makes winning plays often. Just like he did in the Olympics against Pau Gasol, he seems to rise above in bigger moments. The Raptors win might have been Philly’s most impressive win this season, because the 76ers held one of the league’s best offenses to their second worst offensive performance on the season. Saric will never been confused with an all-NBA defender, but he acted like one during this possession against Toronto.
3. Joel Embiid ends Cody Zeller
This list could have just been 10 Embiid highlights, but luckily for Philadelphia fans other incredible plays took place during the first half of the season. Embiid chased down Cody Zeller for this emphatic block. Embiid had so many highlight blocks but I feel like this was his best block of the season.
2. Robert Covington Game Winners
Robert Covington heard lots of boos this year. It happened early in the season. I remember a game against Miami my friend Ryan Wellman actively rooted for him to miss because he knew fans would boo (Ryan once told our friend he was Chipper Jones fan just to upset him… he’s not much of a Philadelphia sports fan). The second Covington made the game-winner against Minnesota on Jan. 3 I let Ryan know Covington was the real deal. And he also made another one against Portland.
1. T.J. McConnell stuns the Knicks
The win over New York ranks as the most improbable of this first half considering the Knicks had a 10 points lead with 2:30 minutes left. Embiid did his thing. Covington hit a three. And McConnell hit the buzzer beater.