SALT LAKE CITY - It was back to losing for the 76ers. But this loss had a different feel.
After beating the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, the Sixers headed to Salt Lake City to face the limping Utah Jazz. The improved visitors had a solid chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since March 18-20.
The Sixers fought hard, battling back a from 21-point second-quarter deficit and came a missed shot away from extending the game.
But after Ish Smith's 11-foot jumper misfired with 1.9 seconds left, the Jazz went on to escape with a 95-91 victory at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The loss dropped the Sixers to 2-31.
Aside from Smith being disappointed with himself over his missed, the team's post-game mode was much better than in previous losses.
That's because there's a sense that, even in defeat, they are much better than in their first 31 games.
"There are so many positives that came out of this," coach Brett Brown said. "You look at what Nerlens [Noel] did. You look at Richaun Holmes did. You look at Ish's third period. … I thought Ish did a great job of getting into the paint finding people.
"It was a great team effort. And the fight, how can you not be proud of that?"
Smith showed why the Sixers gave up two second-round picks to reacquire him in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday. The team initially acquired him in February, but chose not to resign in the offseason.
The 6-foot point guard finished with 22 points, a game-high 11 assists, two steals and lone blemish was his six turnovers. Eleven of his points came in the third quarter.
But wasn't focused his double-double after the game.
"You want me to be honest?" Smith said. "How did I miss that last shot? I'm not happy about that one. I think that was probably the easiest shot I had all night.
"It looked like it was between a bank shot and going straight in."
With the Sixers down 93-91, Smith took the inbounds pass with 20.5 seconds left. He drew Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood shortly after crossing midcourt.
Smith thought about shooting a three-pointer to win the game, but was defended well.
"So when I drove the by him he kind of cut off a little bit and I stepped back and shot faked," he said."
"When I shot faked and he jumped, 'I said 'Oh my goodness, I'm this wide open? … I probably should have shot it an inch farther.
"For us to be in that position, I'm truly thankful. It was a good team game we played and Utah gritted it out and gutted it out."
Noel made 8 of 9 shot to finish with 18 points. He also had six rebounds, five blocks and three steals while making his second straight start at center in place of Jahlil Okafor, who's sidelined with a sore right knee. Noel usually plays power forward. Holmes, a reserve power forward, added 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting off the bench. Gordon Hayward led the winners with 24 points.
Coming in, there was a sense that the Sixers would also be able to beat Utah (13-16).
The Jazz had lost two straight and six of their last eight games heading into the matchup. They were also without power forward Derrick Favors (back spasms), center Rudy Gobert (left knee sprain) and guard/sixth man Alec Burks (broken left leg). Point guard Donte Exum has been sidelined all season as he rehabilitates a left knee injury.
The Sixers battled back from a 21-point deficit and built an 82-78 cushion on Noel's dunk with 9:40 remaining. However, the Jazz responded with an 8-0 run before Noel scored the Sixers' next basket with 3:34 remaining.
That pulled the Sixers within 86-84. However, Trey Burke responded with a three-pointer 21 seconds later to put the Jazz up five points.
After Noel hit a pair of foul shots, Smith knotted the score at 89 with a three-pointer with 1:22 to play. After a timeout, Smith fed Noel for an alley-oop to give the Sixers a 91-89 lead 38.3 ticks left.
After a Jazz timeout, Hayward was left wide open. The Jazz small forward buried a three-pointer with 33.5 seconds left to put the Jazz up, 92-91. The Sixers had a chance to take the lead, but Nik Stauskas missed a 15-footer with 20.5 seconds left.
Trevor Booker, who was fouled after grabbing the defensive rebound, made a foul shot to put the Jazz up two. Smith missed a jumper for the Sixers in the closing seconds.