This time the 76ers wouldn’t allow the resilient Denver Nuggets to come back. After squandering a 21-point fourth-quarter lead in a 100-97 loss in Denver on Nov. 8, the Sixers held off a late Denver rally for Tuesday’s 97-92 win over the Nuggets at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers (18-7) have won three in a row, seven of eight, and are now 13-0 at home. Denver (14-8) has lost five of its last six games. The Sixers’ biggest lead was 14 points in the second quarter.
Denver’s Nikola Jokic hit a driving layup to cut the lead to 95-92 with 18.9 seconds left.
Joel Embiid then hit two free throws, making it 97-92 with 15.3 seconds left.
Denver missed a three, Embiid rebounded and dribbled out the clock.
Embiid had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Tobias Harris scored 20 points, Matisse Thybulle had 13, Al Horford scored 11, and Ben Simmons added seven points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.
“It was great, there was some great defense from both teams," Embiid said.
Will Barton, who scored Denver’s first 13 points, ended with 26.
For the second game in a row, the 76ers received a major spark from Thybulle, their first-round rookie.
Having already earned a strong defensive reputation around the league, the 6-foot-5 Thybulle is providing critical plays at both ends of the court.
A game after scoring a season-high 20 points in Sunday’s 110-104 win over Toronto, Thybulle ignited the crowd in the second quarter when he filled the lane on the break, took a pass from Furkan Korkmaz and dunked over 6-11 Mason Plumlee.
Afterward, Thybulle couldn’t describe what happened on the dunk.
“I would love to [describe it] but I really don’t know what happened,” Thybulle said. “I am pretty sure my eyes were closed, too.”
As the crowd was still buzzing, Thybulle hit a three-pointer on the next possession.
Entering the NBA, Thubulle was supposed to be liability shooting the three. Against Denver, he was 3-for-4 on threes and is now 16-for-26 (.615) in his last eight games.
“Guys are getting me in great spots. We have such talented guys on our team and they demand so much attention, and a lot of times people forget about me,” Thybulle said. “I am just a beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time.”
Everybody, including the TNT broadcast crew, was focused on the center matchup between Embiid and Jokic.
Last year, Jokic was the first-team All-NBA center while Embiid was second-team. In truth, neither has played up to last year’s level, but both are still extremely dangerous.
Neither player would earn a spot on the all-conditioning team. In fact, Jokic resembles a beer-league softball player, and that’s no offense to beer-league softball players.
Still, Jokic is incredibly effective although each step on the court looks like a laborious effort.
Listed at 7-foot and 284 pounds, Jokic is an exceptional passer, has great hands, and loves to work around the high post.
One other thing about the guy they call the Joker: He sets one of the meanest picks in the NBA.
Jokic had 15 points, 11 assists, and seven rebounds.
“He’s great,” Embiid, 25, said of Jokic, 24. “I am a big fan, he is my childhood hero, and I watch him all the time. I like his game and I just like him.”
The Sixers entered the fourth quarter leading 83-76 after Embiid made one of his craziest shots with 0.2 seconds left in the third. With his back to the basket, Embiid flipped a ball into the hoop and was fouled.
Denver had to feel fortunate to be down 55-50 at the half, with Embiid having outscored Jokic 14-4.
More important from the Sixers’ perspective is that they outscored the Nuggets 17-5 in first-half fast-break points. The Sixers would only get two fast-break points in the second half.
Denver lost Jamal Murray with what later was described as a trunk contusion with 6:49 left in the first quarter. A borderline All-Star candidate at the least, Murray didn’t return.