PORTLAND, Ore. — Doc Rivers made it sound so simple.
Before Thursday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the 76ers coach was asked how his team could bounce back from the Feb. 4 blowout loss to the Blazers. In that game, Portland was without four starters and six players total, including perennial All-Star Damian Lillard.
“Play hard,” Rivers said matter-of-factly. “We just didn’t have a lot of energy. We’d come off a road trip. They played great, too.”
Turns out, it wasn’t that simple for the Sixers. A late foul and a turnover on the ensuing possession in the final 3.1 seconds led the Blazers to a 118-114 victory at the Moda Center.
The Sixers tied the score at 114 on a Seth Curry three-pointer with 22.1 seconds left. But Tobias Harris fouled Carmelo Anthony with 3.1 seconds remaining, putting the forward at the foul line. . He hit both to give Portland a two-point lead.
After a Sixers’ timeout, Portland didn’t guard Ben Simmons, who inbounded the ball. Instead, Robert Covington headed toward the paint. The former Sixer initially helped to double-team Joel Embiid before stealing Simmons’ pass to Harris, who was coming off a curl.
The ball deflected to Lillard, who was fouled by Danny Green and hit a pair of free throws with 1.4 seconds left to clinch the victory.
Thursday’s loss dropped the Sixers to 18-8 and snapped two winning streaks. They came into game with two consecutive wins and four straight road victories.
But unlike the teams’ first meeting, the Blazers had the services of Lillard and Chester’s Derrick Jones Jr., another one of the sidelined starters. Meanwhile, Simmons played after missing the first matchup with a left calf tightness.
Joel Embiid had a game-high 35 points to go with nine rebounds in the loss, while Simmons added 23 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
Lillard had 30 points and seven assists, while Anthony added 24 points as the Blazers (14-10) swept this season’s two meetings. Seventeen of Anthony’s points came in the fourth quarter on 6-for-8 shooting. He made 3 of 4 three-pointers in the quarter.
Lillard was on unstoppable early before cooling off.
He scored 19 of his points in the first quarter on 4-for-7 shooting, including making 4-of-5 three-pointers and hitting all seven of his foul shots. However, he went 2-for-14 the rest of the game.
The Blazers made of their first eight three-pointers and finished 8 of 15 from that distance in the first quarter. He only played 4 minutes, 2 seconds in the second quarter, scoring two points.
The Sixers were without standout reserve Shake Milton due to a sprained left ankle. He suffered the injury late in Tuesday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings.
The plan was tp extend someone else’s minutes or most likely give Tyrese Maxey more playing. Doc Rivers would base his decision on how everybody’s playing. Maxey entered the game in the first quarter. He finished with four points in 15 minutes, 5 seconds of action.
Maxey had played a lot of minutes when the Sixers were undermanned due to injuries and players in the league’s health and safety protocols. His highlight was a career-high 39 points in 43 minutes, 45 seconds of action in a 12-point home loss to the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 9.
But his playing time has been reduced now that players are healthy again and Matisse Thybulle is providing solid defense. Maxey didn’t play in Tuesday’s victory after only seeing the final 2:43 of action Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets.
“I feel like we’re winning and I’m doing whatever it takes to help my team by cheering them on and help them get better in practice,” Maxey said of being out of the rotation. “If that’s my role, then that’s what I’m gonna take on and help my team through it.”
Rivers said the 20-year-old is right on the edge of the regular rotation.
“Hopefully by the end of the year, he’s in it,” the coach said, “because I believe in him. I think he’s going to be a terrific player. I like Isaiah Joe, too. But again, you just can’t play everybody.”
Portland’s Enes Kanter was accidentally elbowed in the face by Covington late in the second quarter. He headed to the locker room with blood dripping down his face. Kanter returned for the start of the second half.