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Philadelphia can’t take advantage of shorthanded Brooklyn

Kevin Durant didn’t need James Harden to swat Sixers

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest story on Thursday was the widespread Covid outbreak impacting players in all major sports around the country. For the Philadelphia 76ers, reserve forward Georges Niang was the most recent player to be declared inactive, due to health and safety protocols. With uncertainty swirling, and possible new precautions or reduced crowds looming, there was a game to play.

The Sixers hit the Turnpike and head to Brooklyn to take on the first place Nets, who were dealing with a ton of their own positive cases.

The Nets came in missing seven players, none more important than superstar James Harden. Brooklyn actually used a hardship exception to activate guard Langston Galloway, ensuring they had enough bodies to play; teams need at least eight, since the Nets had no new positive cases during the day, Galloway made nine.

Even though Brooklyn was the skeleton crew in this one, they got the job done and won 114-109.

Brooklyn raced out to the better start, pulling out to a 14-point lead after the first quarter. Durant, who leads the NBA in points per game (29.6 points per gam-) was of course Kevin Durant. Durant, vying for 2022 NBA MVP with his former teammate Steph Curry, recorded a game high 34 points, 11 boards, and eight dimes. He might be the best player on the planet right now. If you wanted to say it was Steph Curry I wouldn’t quibble.

But the Sixers played him aggressively, so early on KD found the open man and got his teammates involved.

Rookies Cam Thomas and Kessler Edwards chipped in with 11 and nine points respectively.

Third-year big Nic Claxton hurt the Sixers. He’s long, rangy, and makes plays both as a roll-man on offense, and offers the Nets the ability to switch on defense. The Georgia product had a very scary fall at one point but was healthy enough to continue and finished with 17 points, two blocks, two steals, and two rebounds.

In the second quarter, Brooklyn only built upon their lead as they got contributions from vet Blake Griffin. Griffin was the Nets second-best player in this one after KD. The former Piston and Clipper had recently been benched for poor play. He came in shooting an abysmal 35 percent from the field and 18 percent from deep. But naturally, he had it going against the Sixers.

But in the third quarter it was the Sixers who completely flipped the script. The red, white and blue hunkered down defensively, cleaned the glass, plus got into some early shot-clock offense to climb back into the game.

Seth Curry helped. The Duke product finished with 29 points, and 3 of 9 from downtown to provide a one-two punch with Joel.

Embiid led the Sixers with 32 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, committed just two turnovers, and drained 9 of 11 free throws. The Nets didn’t have the personnel to stop The Process and often relied on doubles.

Tobias Harris really struggled. Harris was just 3 of 17 for 11 points, seven rebounds, and was 0 of 5 from distance. The 29 year-old out of Tennessee played below expectation and comments like these made recently, make you wonder if there’s not something more going on with the Long Island native. Harris had Covid, an injury, and a non-Covid illness earlier this season.

But ignited by their defense, the Sixers had a 31-19 third quarter. And suddenly your boys were back in business.

In the fourth, they continued to climb. The Sixers going 10 of 34 from downtown didn’t help their cause but they did hit 17 of 20 foul shots.

It was a four-point game with four minutes to go and Philly had their chances. Late, Curry sizzled and was their best source of offense.

At one point the game was tied 103-103 and it felt like Doc Rivers’ crew might steal a game they’d trailed by 19 in. But like many teams have realized this season, if it’s close, Kevin Durant is going to rip your collective hearts out. Enter Sandman.

Durant hit Harris with a patented hesi-pull up jimbo triple, plus the foul. The four-point play was completed. After a Curry miss, Griffin, who finished with 17 points and 9 boards, drained another three. That capped a 7-0 Nets run, and was pretty much the dagger.

The Sixers were outplayed, out coached, and continue to look out of sorts. If this is all a sneaky way to drive up Ben Simmons’ trade value, it’s probably working.

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