DENVER – Typically an early November game between teams from different conferences receives little hype.
Friday night’s matchup between the 76ers and the Denver Nuggets was an exception. That’s because it featured the league’s top two centers in the Sixers’ Joel Embiid and the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic.
So that provided some of the intrigue in a matchup in which Jokic led the Nuggets to a 100-97 victory.
His 20-foot jumper with 2.2 seconds left gave Denver a 98-97 lead. The Sixers had a chance to win on the ensuing possession. But Embiid was called for controversial offensive foul while posting up Jokic underneath the basket with 0.9 second left. Embiid fouled out on the play.
Will Barton added two foul shots with 0.3 second left to give Denver a three-point win. The Nuggets (6-2) battled back from a 21-point deficit for the victory.
However, it appeared that Embiid and Jokic were equally tussling one another on the controversial offensive foul.
The Cameroon native was asked what did he see on that play after the game.
“I watched the replay, I didn’t really see any push off,” Embiid said. “If you want to call that foul, especially at that time of the game, I think that’s kind of BS, especially because he was hooking me. But those are the stuff we can’t control.”
But the two-time All-Star went on to stay the Sixers should have never been in that situation.
“We had a lot of turnovers, missed free throws,” he said. “Our fourth-quarter offense wasn’t the same as the third.”
The ball actually stopped moving in the final quarter. Before than, the Sixers were playing solid team ball with a lot of different players contributing.
Embiid finished with 19 points on 6-for-17 shooting to go with 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 8 turnovers. It was his 100th double-double since the start of the 2017-18 season. Jokic had 26 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
Sixteeen of Jokic’s points came in the fourth quarter on 7-for-10 shooting. As a team, Denver shot 60.9 percent (14 of 23) and made 5 of 7 three-pointers in the final quarter. The Sixers, meanwhile, made just 23.8 percent of their shots and went 1-for-8 on three-pointers in the fourth. Jokic outscored the visitors, 16-13, in the quarter.
Embiid finished with just four points in the quarter on 1-for-4 shooting. The Sixers also had six untimely turnovers.
But before things starting unraveling, Mike Scott’s putback basket gave Philly a commanding 86-65 lead with 11:01 to play. The Nuggets responded with a 10-0 run and becoming closing out the game 23-6 to win.
“It was bad,” Tobias Harris said. "It was a bad loss for us. Obviously, being up and then not being able to stop them, when they had it going. We weren’t able to cut that water off and pule a hole into what they were doing.
“It’s a bad loss for us. In my opinion, it’s bad.”
The loss extended Philly’s losing streak to three games after it opened the season 5-0. The Sixers, who were outscored 35-13 in the fourth quarter, went 1-3 on their four-game West Coast trip. They were without All-Star point guard Ben Simmons, who’s sidelined with a Grade 1 right shoulder sprain.
The absences of Simmons and reserve combination guard Shake Milton (left knee sprain/bone bruise) led to reserve point guard Trey Burke making his first appearance of the season. He subbed for Raul Neto, who got the start, with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first quarter.
The marquee matchup between Embiid and Jokic wasn’t as good as advertised.
Neither player shot well early on. Plus, they were rarely on the floor together until the fourth quarter because of foul trouble.
Embiid had five points on 1-for-7 shooting through the first two quarters. He made 4 of 6 shots while adding 10 points in the third quarter, while Jokic had two points on 1-for-4 shooting.
However, he dominated the fourth.
This marked the first time the Sixers lost three straight games since losing to the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks from April 1 to April 4 of last season.
“Everyone is down,” said Burke, who finished with five points and three assists in 17:34. “We got a team that we really have high expectations for ourselves besides expectations everyone else has for us.
The outcomes of the Sixers’ current three-game skid have been decided by an average of 4.3 points.
“We’ve been playing and working every day,” Burke continued. “Just losing games down the stretch like that, it’s tough. It hurts It stings. But like I said it’s a long season and we got to get ready for Charlotte.”
Harris (13 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks), Neto (13 points, six assists) and reserves Furkan Korkmaz (12 points, 3-for-3 on three-pointers) and Kyle O’Quinn (11 points, 5-for-6 shooting) joined Embiid as the Sixers double-digit scorers.
Despite excelling against Jokic in the first half, O’Quinn didn’t see any action in the third and fourth quarters. Meanwhile, Korkmaz only got one shot attempt in the second half.
Simmons didn’t give a timetable for his return. The standout deferred the question to the team’s public relations department.
“I’m going to make sure I’m 100 percent before I come back, though,” Simmons said Friday night.
The All-Star point guard knows this will be a long season. There’s no need to rush back too soon and risk the return of a lingering injury when his team needs him the most. The Sixers have 74 regular-season game remaining and expect to play into June.
He will be reevaluated before the Sixers play the Charlotte Hornets at home Sunday.
Yahoo Sports reported that Simmons will likely miss the Hornets game and Tuesday’s home matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Rookie Matisse Thybulle did not see action against the Nuggets. It was the first game the rookie swingman missed all season. He came into the contest tied for fourth in the league in steals at 2.0 per game.
“I wanted to go with Trey,” Brown said of not playing Thybulle. "I wanted to give him an opportunity. Furkan has been playing well. James [Ennis] has been playing well. Sometimes rookies go through a little bit of a patch.
“My intention was try to get him in the second half and the guys were playing well. So we rode that out.”