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Sixers fall 114-109 to the Brooklyn Nets after late collapse in their home opener

The Nets staged a 13-0 run to flip a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit into an improbable early-season victory over the Sixers.

Sixers center Joel Embiid, left, blocks a shot by Nic Claxton of the Nets during his team's 114-109 loss in their home opener at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday.
Sixers center Joel Embiid, left, blocks a shot by Nic Claxton of the Nets during his team's 114-109 loss in their home opener at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Allen Iverson could not believe his eyes.

The 76ers legend stood up from his courtside seat under the home basket with less than one minute to play as action moved to the opposite end of the court. The Nets had scored 13 consecutive points to flip a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit into an improbable early-season victory, defeating the Sixers 114-109 in a wild game they did not lead until the final minute.

The Nets trailed 108-98 when Tobias Harris found Matisse Thybulle for an alley-oop dunk with 5:33 to play. But the Sixers did not score again until the final seconds, turning what appeared to be a celebratory start to their home slate and a marquee victory over the NBA title favorite into heartbreak Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

“The good sign for me is how well we played,” coach Doc Rivers said. “The bad sign is we can’t finish games that way.”

In all, Brooklyn completed the comeback with a 16-1 run. LaMarcus Aldridge gave the Nets their first lead of the game at 109-108on an and-1 dunk with 48.2 seconds to play, then hit two more free throws to create breathing room.

» READ MORE: Ben Simmons told the Sixers he’s not mentally ready to play yet

Brooklyn’s decisive stretch also included a Kevin Durant jumper that sandwiched two Aldridge finishes, before a Patty Mills transition bucket cut the lead to 108-106 with less than two minutes to play before Aldridge’s tie-breaking old-fashioned three-point play.

Philly’s only point in the final 5:33 came on one Seth Curry free throw. Ball movement that had worked so well for the first 44 minutes stagnated. They did not execute play calls. They missed 17 of their 23 shots in the period, including three air-balled three-pointers by Danny Green in rapid succession. And they could not lean on superstar Joel Embiid, who was limited to less than five fourth-quarter minutes because of knee soreness that made him questionable to play Friday.

“We talked about it in back-to-back timeouts, like, get the ball up the floor. Get the ball moving. Get the ball from side to side,” Rivers said. “And the ball just stuck. When we lost games last year, that’s something we did, and that’s something we have to get better in, and we will.”

The Sixers (1-1) started with an offensive flurry and held off every Nets run until that final decisive push. Philly got another steady outing from Harris (23 points, seven rebounds), hot shooting from Curry (23 points on 9-of-12 from the floor) and balanced scoring with five players in double figures.

A crucial response came late in the third quarter when, after two free throws by Kevin Durant cut Philly’s lead to 85-83, the Sixers answered with a 14-4 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters to extend their lead back to double digits at 99-87. Seth Curry, Georges Niang and Furkan Korkmaz all hit three-pointers during that stretch, while Tyrese Maxey opened the fourth with a floater and a step-back trey.

Then when the Nets got back within 102-98 with less than seven minutes to play, Harris answered with a jumper, before an Andre Drummond tip-in and steal at the other end, which resulted in the Harris-to-Thybulle connection to stretch the advantage back to 108-98.

Then things unraveled quickly for the Sixers. Before the buzzer sounded, Iverson rose from his courtside seat and left. He had clearly seen enough.

Hot start, cold finish

The Sixers led for all but 48.2 seconds because of a blazing start they nearly rode out to victory.

The Sixers made three of their first four three-point buckets and scored eight fastbreak points in the opening minutes to quickly take a 20-6 lead. Then, when the Nets answered with a 12-2 run to slice that advantage to 22-18, Harris followed two buckets from Curry with another three-pointer to extend the advantage to 30-20 with less than three minutes to play in the period.

During that first quarter, the Sixers totaled 11 transition points (Brooklyn had zero), dished out seven assists on 13 made field goals and committed just one turnover. They also went 6-of-9 from three-point distance, and one of those misses was a desperation heave from Andre Drummond at the buzzer.

The Sixers then shot more than 54% in the second (12-of-21) and third (12-of-22) quarters, before the offensive collapse stretch. Harris also attributed those late struggles to lapses on the defensive end.

“We know how good we are getting the ball up, creating turnovers and getting out in transition on a team, like we were all game,” Harris said “… We got good looks that we wanted a couple times, so [if] those looks fall, I think it’s a different outcome, a different game.

“But overall, I thought when we are missing those shots, we gotta figure out a way defensively to be able to stop them and not send them to the free throw line, as well.”

Curry catches fire

After Furkan Korkmaz’s offensive explosion to close the Sixers’ season-opening victory in New Orleans, Seth Curry picked up the hot shooting. He made seven of his first eight shots and 9-of-12 overall to finish with 23 points, four rebounds and two blocks.

“Just being aggressive,” Curry said of his fast start. “Got pick and rolls, the floor is open, good screens. Just good activity without the ball.”

He scored 10 points in the first quarter, including a mid-range jumper and a three-pointer when Brooklyn was attempting to claw back from a 14-point deficit. He then hit three quick shots when he returned to action in the second quarter, helping the Sixers rebuild a double-digit advantage.

Then, he hit two shots from beyond the arc with Brooklyn making a push late in the third, including one that answered the two Durant free throws that made the score 85-83. But he did not attempt a shot in the final period, and missed a free throw that cut the Nets’ lead to one with 15.2 seconds remaining.

Embiid plays through soreness

Embiid was in the starting lineup after being listed as questionable to play Friday because of soreness after knocking knees early in Wednesday’s opener. He finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists, but acknowledged his knee “has been extremely sore” and that “tonight was just one of those nights where I probably shouldn’t have even played.”

That is why he only played the final 4:12 of the game, grabbing an extra 90 seconds of game-time rest following the timeout that ignited the Nets’ run. As a result, Embiid said he “wasn’t as aggressive as I would have liked.” He went 0-for-3 from the floor and grabbed one rebound during that span.

“It’s the end of the game, you see it in the playoffs too, that’s where you need elite shot-creators,” Embiid said. “Last season, especially in the regular season, I was that guy. Tonight, I just couldn’t, but in the future I think we’ll be fine.”

Embiid had a big wrap on his knee during his postgame news conference, and grimaced as he got up from his chair to leave the dais.

Embiid started 2-of-7 from the floor but collected four assists in the first quarter, mirroring his stat line Wednesday night. And when the Nets tried to double early, he knocked down one of his textbook one-footed baseline jumpers.

When Embiid subbed out late in the first half, he headed straight to the locker room instead of the bench. He was wearing a wrap on his knee when he returned to warm up for the second half and began the third with the starting group. He showed off his athleticism when he went up and under for a layup about midway through the third, then hit a three-pointer and made a tough jumper to help fend off one of the Nets’ rallies.

Rotations, rotations

After struggling during their first-half shift Wednesday, the Sixers’ all-bench lineup maintained the lead in the second quarter and provided their own highlights.

With Brooklyn on a late push in the first, Korkmaz found Drummond for a bucket and then converted his own tough driving finish and a 17-foot step-back jumper. Drummond flashed his rim protection with two blocks and his playmaking, with a slick behind-the-back pass to Niang in the corner (who missed the three) and a dish to Harris for a layup.

Thybulle also played late into the second quarter with the starting group over Danny Green, guarding James Harden (20 points on 7-of-17 shooting).

Korkmaz finished the game with 10 points, while Drummond added 10 rebounds, four points, two assists, two steals and two blocks in 23 minutes. Meanwhile, second-year guard Isaiah Joe, (2-of-7 from the floor and 1-of-5 from 3) has struggled in the first two regular-season games after a dynamite preseason.