The Philadelphia 76ers played just nine men on the tail-end of an all-road back-to-back. All things considered, it seemed more likely than not that the Sixers would end the game and the road trip with a double-digit defeat. However, strong offensive performances along with some timely free throw shooting and last-second luck propelled the Sixers to their first victory of the road trip with a 124-122 win in Denver.
Despite the Sixers and Nuggets playing a very back-and-forth first quarter, there was still a bit of an ominous start to the game with Joel Embiid not playing his best and Nikola Jokic jumping out to 14 first quarter points in seven minutes of playing time. Fortunately for the Sixers, things turned around as Jokic was met with some first half foul trouble and only played a total of 22 minutes for the game, scoring just 11 points in his final 15 minutes.
For their part, the Sixers early on were led in scoring by Ersan Ilyasova who finished the game with 23 points, tied with Embiid for the team high. Ilyasova made 5-6 from beyond the arc with many of those shot attempts coming in the first half. He was on fire offensively hitting his shot while coming down with 13 rebounds on the evening while playing a total of 37 minutes.
With Embiid on his minutes restriction and last year’s Sixers top draft pick resting with a hamstring injury, Nerlens Noel saw 19 minutes of game action most of which he spent playing well. Offensively he hit his first four baskets and finished with 9 points while contributing defensively, a rarity for non-Embiid and non-Noel Sixers centers.
The Nuggets ended the first half on a 12-2 run that sent the game to halftime tied at 60 and sent Sixers fans into feelings of deja vu before the second half had even started. With limited options off the bench and playing the second half of a back-to-back with Embiid seemingly struggling with adjusting to the high altitude, it appeared a lock that the Sixers would perish earlier than normal tonight.
Robert Covington saw to it that things would turn out differently. Covington, to put it mildly, struggled last night against Utah, shooting a rather embarrassing 0-11. In the first half at Denver, he seemed destined to repeat last night’s dreadful outing shooting 0-6 in the first half. However, Covington re-discovered his touch in the second half. Covington made his final six baskets of the game, including a turnaround deep three point shot as the shot clock expired for a total of 19 points on the evening, all coming in the second half.
Up four entering the fourth quarter, the Sixers were once again tasked with hanging onto a 4th quarter lead. And they did so with some help from a somewhat unexpected source in T.J. McConnell. Though he is not known for having a deadly three-point shot, McConnell had himself a night tonight by going 3-3 from beyond the arc while dishing out a team high 8 assists on the evening in 36 minutes of playing time. McConnell made a very strong case for himself tonight that he should be the team’s starting point guard moving forward this year. And with performances like the one he had tonight and the near triple-double in his last start, it may be hard to deny him given the struggles the Sixers have had at the point guard spot this year.
Though the Nuggets rallied throughout the fourth quarter and kept trying to whittle away at the Sixers lead, the Sixers continued to hang on. With Embiid’s free throws securing a 124-120 lead with five seconds left, the game appeared to be out of reach barring something fantastical happening.
Something fantastical almost happened. With Jokic attempting a three point shot in the waning seconds, Embiid was whistled for a shooting foul on Jokic, who somehow defied the Laws Of Sixers and missed the shot. To put it kindly, even with multiple replays showing the moment from different angles determining where and how exactly Embiid fouled Jokic was all a bit difficult to figure out.
Jokic stepped up to the line, connected on the first two trimming the lead to two and threw up an intentional miss on his third free throw. The rebound fell to Gary Harris who got an open look from close-up but somehow missed the shot. The tip in resulting from the rebound as the horn sounded fell short as well and the Sixers were able to hang on to their 2-point lead and the victory in Denver.
Up next for the Sixers they will return home and play their first game of 2017 when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, January 3.