After Denver’s Will Barton - Will [redacted] Barton! - started the game on a personal 9-0 run, it looked like the Philadelphia 76ers would lose their second game in the City of Brotherly Love in 95 days.
And then the third quarter happened.
A 20-5 run by the Sixers to start the second half completely obliterated the Nuggets’ eight-point halftime advantage, and the 76ers never looked back as they dismantled Denver 123-104 at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night.
Joel Embiid (20 points and 13 rebounds despite a fair amount of foul trouble) and Dario Saric (20 points) had stellar games, but tonight was all about a man who has spent the better part of the past five months in a suit.
After missing the past 68 games, Markelle Fultz suited up for the Sixers tonight and logged his first action since October 23. He was a bit rusty early (he ran directly into Mason Plumlee and turned the ball over almost immediately after checking into the game late in the first quarter), but his confidence appeared to grow by the minute.
He scored his first points on a wide open layup, and showed good form on his first attempt at a jumper (despite the fact that it was an airball). He finished his first stint with two points and three assists in 5:32 of action.
He checked back in with 3:21 left in the third quarter and he helped guide the second unit to a 85-74 lead heading into the final period. There were a couple of questionable decisions, but for the most part, he didn’t show any ill effects from the prolonged layoff.
So... why was tonight chosen as the time for the comeback? Who knows? Who cares? (Brett Brown’s passive-aggressive Phil Jackson-esque statements last Friday probably played a role). But whatever the case may be, his teammates were clearly happy to have him back in the rotation.
Not as happy as the fans, however. With the result no longer in doubt late in the fourth quarter, and the man of the hour back on the bench after nearly 12 minutes of action, those in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center co-opted the Minnesota Vikings “Skol” chant and turned it into a “Fultz” plea. Brett Brown obliged, and Fultz (10 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds) blessed the crowd with a couple of hesi pull-up jimbos that (probably) made a few grown men cry.
The Sixers - winners of seven in a row - close out their three-game homestand with a date against the New York Knicks on Wednesday. But that doesn’t matter right now. Fultz is back. My heart is warm. Let’s just enjoy this for a night.
SIX(ERS) NOTES --
- The Nuggets did a mighty fine job of protecting the paint in the first half, which led to Ben Simmons being held in check over the first two quarters (0-2 in first half, 1 point, 2 rebounds, 4 assists in 18:28). Simmons would end the game with 7 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists because he’s really good at this basketball thing.
- I don’t know if we talk enough about how good Dario is. It feels like he gets a bucket every time the Sixers need to stop a run, he has excellent vision, and his ability to stretch the floor this season has been outstanding.
- Despite a couple of defensive lapses early, Robert Covington had one of his better games in a while (18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including two four-point plays)
- In the second half, the Sixers outrebounded the Nuggets 37 to 14.
- Embiid played just 27:07 tonight (mostly due to foul trouble), but to their credit, the Sixers essentially played the Nuggets to a draw without him on the court.
- And speaking of Embiid, we can’t forget about this...