The 76ers entered tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets 1-7 in games without Joel Embiid. But you probably knew that, and that the Sixers have had a propensity to blow second half leads leading to that poor record, coupling back-breaking decisions with untimely shooting spurts from opposing teams. The blown lead tendency has crept into games where Embiid plays, also, and it’s left Sixers fans wondering how much more painful losing we’d have to endure.
The team’s performance down the stretch tonight was uninspiring at best, panic-driven at worst, but Denver performed equally poorly due to some poor shooting from basically every Nugget and timely defense from Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons to swarm Nikola Jokic and grab defensive rebounds. The defensive stands were enough for the Sixers to eke-out a 107-102 win.
The Sixers, down double digits in the third after not scoring for over four minutes to start the quarter, went on a 31-8 run led first by T.J. McConnell cutting up the Denver defense with simple pick-and-roll action and then by Jerryd Bayless being possessed by the spirit of Alex English (who do not worry, is NOT dead) and lighting it up under the shadow of the Rockies, scoring 14 key second half points. No, I did not expect that either. Bayless, who had been benched in the first half for the similarly struggling Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, took advantage of Brett Brown going back to him to give the Sixers a big lead that even they did not manage to blow.
But they tried. The Sixers, with a lead in the fourth, play as loose with the basketball as humanly possible, and the visible angst on the court when the Sixers try to run a set in the fourth quarter would be funny if any of the 29 other teams had those issues. That said, the defensive miscues from most similar situations earlier in the year did not reappear. The Sixers just chose to switch everything; not a bad idea when you have communication issues and Amir Johnson isn’t on the court. It worked well enough - a missed open three from Will Barton essentially iced the game, with a couple of heart-attack inducing passes only to go. The Sixers actually won this game.
- Ben Simmons struggled again, posting an eerie 6 point, 6 rebound, 6 assist stat line and struggling to initiate offense like McConnell. In retrospect, maybe putting Simmons at the point for the first time in his life should result in even more struggles than it has, but games like this are an inevitability especially as Simmons struggles to find his shot.
- The Sixers mixed up defensive coverage on Nikola Jokic enough to knock him off his game a bit. Jokic still converted his 18 effective shot opportunities into 19 points (which is good), and had six assists to two turnovers
- Denver seemingly always converts a ridiculous shot against the Sixers. Remember Emmanuel Mudiay’s game-winner? Rather than linking to a YouTube video, I’m going to just follow the sequence and final shot in my memory as if it were tattooed on my brain. Tonight, Trey Lyles hit a leaning 35-footer to end the third quarter. That said, Denver’s poor three point shooting is what won the Sixers the game. Lyles’ desperation three was one of seven converted in 32 attempts. Three point defense is a finicky thing - it mostly is a mirage, since contested threes are effectively only contested if the opponent’s shot form or vision of the rim is impaired. The Sixers will take what they can get - Chicago shot unbelievably on all jumpers in their victory over the Sixers, and that variance can happen over the course of an 82-game season. The Sixers surprisingly won despite shooting 33% from three themselves.
- Dario Saric had another good game in Embiid’s absence, scoring 20 points on 15 shots and finishing with 9 rebounds and 6 assists. He struggled to finish easy opportunities around the basket but got to the line and hit three much-needed three pointers.
- The Sixers committed only 13 turnovers tonight. Success!
- Richaun Holmes brought mostly solid offense as usual, finishing with 14 points in his 23 minutes, but his defense stood out as being, uh, not great, Bob.
I would prefer if Holmes played more. But when you're asking why he isn't getting burn on certain nights, look no further than plays like this pic.twitter.com/YHX2AybGJC— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) December 31, 2017
And finally... I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Lil B, friend of the blog, granted his blessing on the Sixers before the game, along with several other teams!
NBA TEAMS THAT HAVE "THE BASEDGODS" BLESSING....— Lil B THE BASEDGOD (@LILBTHEBASEDGOD) December 31, 2017
1.GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
2.PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERShttps://t.co/ml82xmADYL CELTICS
6.PHILLYDELPHIA 76ers https://t.co/Ajy6lznVtB YORK KNICKS
THIS THE UPDATED SPORTS NBA BLESSINGS - Lil B
Anyway, the social media idiots for the Denver Nuggets decided to challenge Lil B and the blessings of the Based God.
wait, who's Lil B? https://t.co/QaAVxPl9Ey— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 31, 2017
The above did not go down well with the Based God. And so Lil B made the following pronouncement (...I don’t know why Kyle Kuzma is there).
NBA SPORTS LIL B UPDATE "THE BASEDGODS" CURSE WARNING LIST— Lil B THE BASEDGOD (@LILBTHEBASEDGOD) December 31, 2017
1. DENVER NUGGETS
- Lil B
So then, with the power of the Based God’s blessing preventing the Nuggets from making a normal number of threes or doing well in general, the Sixers pulled out a victory in a game without Joel Embiid, and the Nuggets realized the error in their ways.
ok our bad, @LILBTHEBASEDGOD pic.twitter.com/OnMdUB9KLi— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 31, 2017
The Based God accepted the apology, and has since blessed the Nuggets. Fortunately, the blessing timing was too late for the Nuggets to pick up a victory.
LOVE YOU YOU ARE ON THE BLESSED LIST FORGIVE ME FOR TONIGHT - Lil B— Lil B THE BASEDGOD (@LILBTHEBASEDGOD) December 31, 2017
And that was the real story behind tonight’s game.