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Sixers fall to Rockets despite T.J. McConnell's valiant effort

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Eric Gordon connected on a buzzer-beating triple and foiled the Sixers guard's exceptional performance.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers allowed Houston (4-1) to turn a 9-0 run into a 105-104 victory on guard Eric Gordon's game-winning three. Gordon was 4-of-15 before that made basket and generated enough space to square himself up for an optimal look. He finished with a game-high 29 points and Gordon's constant trips to the line (10-12 FT) aided his relatively missing stroke.

Brett Brown mismanaged his Philadelphia's (1-4) crunch-time effort with three questionable plays: Embiid completely obsolete. J.J. Redick missed a falling three and an improvisational three with stagnant movement. The sequence culminated with Simmons swallowing the entire last possession before Bayless got blocked in traffic. It's dumbfounding how Embiid isn't the focal point at the end here, and the decisions left a sour taste despite an overall captivating Sixers effort. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons needed a productive ally to combat James Harden's Houston Rockets and found one in point guard T.J. McConnell.

McConnell capitalized on Houston's unaware guards and his constant energy helped him generate a game-high six steals. Philadelphia struggled all night properly executing with numbers and capped their total output as a result. McConnell's timing and vision were hawk-like tonight, picking his teammates up for outlet, pocket passes and interior feeds. He totaled nine assists and his synergy with Simmons has been luckily better than advertised. Brown is strapped for offense in his second unit and McConnell's constantly up to provide. The steals are gravy. McConnell's recent play is something to build on while Brown figures out how to disperse minutes throughout his bench.

Embiid totaled three first-quarter fouls and sat for a majority of the second quarter, allowing Harden to infiltrate the Sixers' defense and get Houston within two at the half. Instinctually he let himself enter the fourth quarter with just those three fouls and proceeded to go to work on the Rockets' frontcourt. A much more restrained Embiid has benefited his overall efficiency. In Detroit, he operated from the post and tonight he followed suit. The 7-foot-2 stud illustrated his monstrous power bodying bigs on the block and finishing a slashing dunk. It was Embiid's deft touch that allowed the big man to generate consistent offense. He ended the night with 21 points (8-of-13 FG), six rebounds, and two blocks.

Simmons poured in another stat-stuffing outing with 14 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, and three steals. His command of the offense, outside of failing to pick apart mismatches or create for himself late, and ability to lock and trail tonight stood out and provides an impact if he's struggling to shoot (7-of-17 FG).

Jerryd Bayless didn't fulfill his role as a secondary offensive creator for himself or his teammates tonight. Bayless picked up some of the scoring slack left by his bench peers (9 PTS, 3-of-11 FG), hitting open threes and providing a punch in the first half, but played the second half as a liability. His lack of versatility hindered Philadelphia tonight on both ends (2 AST, 2 REB). Bayless hasn't generally been a black hole type player prior to arriving in Philadelphia, but averaging a measly 1.3 assist over his last three games isn't conducive to fluid, efficient offense. He also continues struggling on initial reads that could lead to better shots for his teammate. Bayless isn't in the mold of volume scorer and contributing these Andrew Wiggins-type stat lines is concerning.

James Harden cooked him in both isolation and in the pick-and-roll. The lefty started developing a rhythm late in the second quarter with Bayless constantly helpless. Embiid's absence compounded issues but Bayless and T.J. McConnell couldn't deter the potent scorer. The star totaled 27 points and 14 assists, operating as the catalyst to both late half runs.

Harden's compelling ability to command D'Antoni's offense and put his teammates in favorable situations tested the Sixers' defense, but his ball control was absent. Constant ball pokes and passing into traffic contributed to Harden's game-high eight turnovers.

In Markelle Fultz's absence, Justin Anderson looked competent on the offensive end, but his defensive value continues to evade him.

Additional Takeaways:

Amir Johnson looks like a really limited 5 in today's league and at his current state, but his continuous effort on the offensive glass needs to be mentioned. The veteran grabbed four offensive rebounds to give Philadelphia extra possessions, even if they didn't consistently follow with made baskets. He also churned out three blocks on the other end while displaying some length. Through the first four games, Johnson failed to impact any area and couldn't finish near the basket. Those finishing issues persisted tonight, going 2-of-6 from the floor, but Johnson's activity can help in other areas when Embiid sits.

The 2017 version of Dario Saric is starting to lose its appeal. Saric missed his only attempt of the night and isn't having an influence on the second unit, akin to last season. He's being blatantly miscast and it's surprising to see that he's become the outcast offensively instead of McConnell.

What's on Deck?

The Sixers travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.