Things were looking up for the 76ers heading into Wednesday matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Sixers were coming off back-to-back wins for the first time since March 2015 and they were riding a four-game winning streak at Wells Fargo Center.
However, the Sixers exited the Center wondering just how different things would have been if the team was not limiting the minutes of Joel Embiid. The Grizzlies benefitted from rookie center's absence in the second extra session and beat the 76ers 104-99 in double overtime.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said the outcome would have been different if Embiid played in the second overtime. However, he said there was no exception to the rule.
The team restricts Embiid's playing time because he is recovering from foot injuries that cost him and the team two seasons. The 7-foot-2, 276-pounder showed his frustration by kicking a bench at the conclusion of the first overtime.
"I respect that," Brown said of Embiid visible display of frustration. "Very much I respect that. You see how much he wants to help us try to win, how competitive he is. I mean that's a hard life to live, isn't it? [It is] from everybody's perspective - coaches, teammates, Joel's fans. But it's just the way it is."
The loss denied the Sixers (4-11) of two things. They failed to win three consecutive games for the first time since they won four straight in late 2013 and early 2014. The Sixers also haven't beaten the Grizzlies (10-5) since Dec. 26, 2012, with Memphis winning eight consecutive meetings.
Embiid was unable to play in the double overtime because he already played three minutes,10 seconds more than his 24-minute limit. He tried to persuade the medical staff to allow to play more minutes.
"It's tough," Embiid said. "I don't think I'm playing against Chicago [on Friday]. So I basically have three or four days to rest. So that's what I told them.
"But they care about me. They are going to do whatever they can to protect me."
The Grizzlies capitalized. Memphis reserve power forward Zach Randolph scored the first two buckets of the second overtime on Jahlil Okafor, who replaced Embiid. Then Grizzles center Marc Gasol added two baskets. Memphis had a 99-96 lead with 1:57 left in the second session with those two leading the way.
The Sixers' Jerryd Bayless made a layup to cut the lead to 99-98, but Memphis' Mike Conley sealed the win with five foul shots in the final 20.9 seconds.
The Sixers, who were also doomed by 27 turnovers, were led in scoring by Ersan Ilyasova and Robert Covington.
Ilyasova finished with team high of 22 points and 12 rebounds. Covington added 19 points while making 4 of 7 three-pointers. He also had 10 rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocked shots in his first double-double of the season. The small forward snapped out of his three-point shooting slump, going 3-for-27 in the previous five games. Bayless finished with 18 points and six assists in a reserve role.
Embiid finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots for his fourth double double of the season.
The Grizzlies were paced by Gasol's game-high 27 points, while Conley added 25 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
Conley, a 10-year veteran, continued to show why the Grizzlies signed him a five-year, $153 million deal to stay with the franchise this summer. He came into the game averaging a career-best 19.2 points. Conley was also shooting career bests from the floor (45.1 percent), on three-pointers (49.3) and from the foul line (89.2).
'We are paying him for more than just points, assists and defense," Memphis coach Dave Fizdale said before the game. "We are paying for the character of the guy. We are paying for the leadership. We are paying for what he does in our community."
Fizdale stressed that Conley is much more than a basketball player to the franchise.
"So who's more deserving for a contract like that than Mike Conley?" he said.
The Sixers were without shooting guard Gerald Henderson and reserve center Richaun Holmes. Henderson was sidelined with cold and flu-like symptoms. Holmes had gastroenteritis.
The Sixers had several opportunities to win this game even without the duo.
They blew an 11-point third-quarter lead. Then with the score tied at 86, Embiid misfired on an off-balance 5-foot jump shot with 0.3 seconds left. It appeared that he was fouled by Gasol on the play. But the game went to overtime following the no call.
Then Embiid had a chance to win the game during the first overtime. That time, he missed a 15-foot jumper with 0.7 seconds left, setting up the second overtime. It was his final play of the game.
"There it is on your bench 10 feet from me," Brown said of being tempted to play Embiid. "It's very tempting. But you just can't do it.
"It's a bigger world than we are living in. It's a far greater vision, a much longer vision that we see. Really games like tonight as much as it stings and as much as he was close by, and play at the level that we saw, it's just not wise to do it."