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Sixers-Nuggets recap: smothering defense preserves an undefeated home record

Denver Nuggets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s OK if you did a double take when you saw the final. An end of game score of 97-92 feels like an NBA playoff game from the late nineties, doesn’t it? Well that one played out like a slugfest. This was Denver’s 4th road game in just six nights so they were probably pretty tired. Further limiting their offense was the loss of their leading scorer, Jamal Murray, who exited the game with a trunk contusion about halfway through the first quarter after a collision with Ben Simmons. All of that set up pretty well for the Sixers to exact some revenge against the team who came back from down 19 points when last they met a few weeks ago.

Josh Richardson returned to action after missing the previous six contests with right hamstring soreness. It was nice to see him back since I was beginning to wonder if his issue was a bit more serious than we first were led to believe. He clearly wasn’t himself yet tonight and couldn’t really find a rhythm. He was just 1-8 from the field in 19 minutes of action. Perhaps coach Brett Brown had a minutes restriction in mind for him coming in. But the other thing was that electric rookie, Matisse Thybulle just cannot be stopped and easily made up for Richardon’s lack of usual pop.

Thybulle came into this game fresh off his career high 20 points in a win over the rival Raptors Sunday. He wasn’t much less stellar this evening:

The “Icepick” finished with 13 points, he made 3 of his 4 attempts from deep, he had one steal and five boards. Oh right, and he was a game high +20! The energy he brings and transition opportunities he causes has an immeasurable impact on the home crowd. You can feel the energy surge in the building when he causes a steal and finishes with a dunk or lobs one to Ben Simmons, then sticks a corner triple. Everyone else seems to play a little harder too. He’s now shooting 44 percent from three. A pretty ridiculous rate.

Joel Embiid had the tough task of anchoring the defense and worrying about phenom, Nikola Jokic. Embiid had 22 points, one block, two steals (he was pretty active defensively and deflected some balls as well) ten rebounds, six assists, and four turnovers.

Jokic had 15 points, 11 dimes, and 7 boards. But it was Will Barton who had the hot hand for Denver this evening. Barton finished with 26 points and 7 seven assists. He gave the Sixers fits.

Ben Simmons was very quiet. He still finished with 7 points, 7 dimes, and 9 rebounds. But with only six attempts from the field, you’d like to see more offense out of Ben in a tight game against a good team. Denver did a terrific job of continuously walling him off on drives and forcing him to pick up his dribble and pass, occasionally turning him over.

Al Horford struggled early on. He couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half, but he stuck with it and helped the Sixers build a lead back in the third quarter. He finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, and two assists.

There were moments this game when I imagined having to read about how they blew a 19 point lead in Denver the first time they played, and it perhaps happening again. Tonight Philadelphia was up by 14 before they started in on one of their massive turnover fests to end the half. I think they at one point had 4 turnovers in six possessions just before the break and let Denver rally.

At the end of the game, the Sixers went about 4 full minutes without a single point also. This team can really turn it over and can really go through some cold spells. The defense is capable of great things and that’s going to remain their calling card. But this style makes for some high-stress viewing sometimes, doesn’t it?

Well not much time to enjoy this one. Thursday is the rival Celtics. Boston is 17-5 and the Sixers are 17-7, a full game back in the standings. Beating them in Boston (after doing so in their own crib on opening night) would be a statement for these Sixers.

As long as Josh Richardson avoided setbacks in his hammy, hopefully he can get back to full strength at the same time Thybulle is playing so well. Before the injury Richardson was starting to cook and we learned in his absence how vital he is to the lineup. A one-two of him and a newly scorching Thybulle sure would give the Sixers some much needed wing talent.

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