Exhausted Sixers end road trip with a third consecutive loss

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In the final contest of a four-game Western Conference swing, the Sixers looked to end the trip on a positive note. They would face a difficult climb though as Ben Simmons missed the game with a minor sprain in his right AC joint. Raul Neto made the start in Simmons’ place.

This game was the first matchup between the Sixers’ Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets. These two players are unanimously considered the top two Centers in the NBA, it’s just a matter of who claims the top spot. Matchups like this help decide that debate.

First Quarter

The Sixers started the game surprisingly hot without their starting point guard, but things quickly cooled off. After scoring the first five points of the game, the offense became sloppy and the defense lacked effort. Following an early timeout by Brett Brown, the Sixers came back with the type of aggression a road team needs.

Late in the First Quarter, Trey Burke checked in for his first minutes as a Sixer. Burke came out and very quickly injected his energy into the game. While he didn’t set the world on fire, he did give his team a second wind to help finish the quarter strong. His first points also came off a last-second shot to close the quarter.

Second Quarter

Keeping that energy the Sixers quickly looked to pull away. The Sixers bench was crucial in gaining separation on the scoreboard. Kyle O’Quinn played more than solid minutes defending Jokic while becoming a living bucket in the quarter. Trey Burke, incensed by a no-call, received a technical foul for complaining to the ref and after that, he really turned on his game. Burke began slashing, scoring, and distributing to contribute any way he could.

With the starters returning, the Sixers looked to maximize the first-half lead. Embiid struggled offensively the entire half but he made sure he was heard defensively. The first half was won by the bench as Kyle O’Quinn and Furkan Korkmaz led the Sixers with 11 points each. The Sixers finished the Second Quarter leading the Nuggets by 15 points.

Third Quarter

The Sixers did not start the Second Half the way they wanted but after a few minutes, they began to adjust and find their rhythm. With his game in a funk, Embiid tried desperately to regain his offensive form. He insisted on relying on pump-fakes and dribble moves. Joel Embiid has an ability to pull-off moves that someone his size has no business attempting, but far too often, he forces himself in turnovers.

With Embiid taking a breather, the Sixers returned to the style of ball that originally dismantled this Nuggets team. The Sixers obviously are not better without Joel Embiid but last night, the rest of the roster just clicked.

Wrapping up the third quarter, the Sixers looked to put this game out of reach. Joel Embiid began to play like the MVP type player he is. Working in the post, hitting an open three, Embiid was back and just in time to close the quarter.

Fourth Quarter

The Sixers started the quarter strong, but things quickly began to slip away as the Nuggets went on a 10-0 run in a two-minute span. After an ensuing timeout, the Sixers again began to bounce back from a Nuggets run. Just as quickly as the Sixers regained control it slipped from their fingers, allowing the Nuggets to cut the lead back down to eight.

The Sixers tried desperately to regain control of this game. With each passing minute, the Nuggets could feel their chances of winning this game increasing. As the two-minute mark passed, Paul Milsap hit a transition three to cut the lead down to two. The Nuggets were scoring with easy and locking the Sixers offense down.

Last-ditch effort

With just over one minute left, the Sixers led by four until Will Barton hit a clutch three-pointer to cut the lead to one. Joel Embiid responded by rolling to the hoop for two only for the Nuggets to storm right back with two of their own.

With the Sixers lead cut down to one, Embiid went to work down low and as the double team closed in, he passed out the Al Horford who rose up for the wide-open three. As the shot left his hand all you could do was hope but the shot fell leaving the Nuggets with the final shot and 13 seconds left.

With the Nuggets inbounding the ball, they had issues running their drawn-up play. As it broke down the ball found its way to Nikola Jokic who was able to shot directly over his defender for the lead with less than two seconds left.

Looking to inbound and shoot quickly the Sixers were running out of time. Looking for Embiid the ball was en route as Nikola Jokic flopped to draw the foul, Embiid’s sixth. After a quick foul the game was over in stunning fashion. The Sixers dominated the Nuggets for almost the entire game but fell apart at the seams when it mattered.

In the end, the Sixers lost 100-97.

Takeaways

Wasted opportunity

It’s not often that a bench performs like the Sixers’ did in Denver. Any night your bench gives you 37 points, you’ll take it. To waste this type of production is unacceptable. Not only were they effective offensively but they were key in locking up the Nuggets offense. Let’s hope for more games like this from the bench.

Sixers fall short at the line

The Sixers were abysmal from the free-throw line shooting a pathetic 47%. That is unacceptable for any level of basketball, especially for the NBA. If you want to win anything important in the NBA you need to perform better from the charity stripe.

Where was Thybulle?

Matisse Thybulle was nowhere to be found during this game. To my knowledge he was not sick, he was not injured, so that would make him a healthy scratch. According to Brett Brown, the decision to sit Thybulle was two-fold: Coach Brown wanted to give Trey Burke an opportunity, and he felt the bench was performing so well as a unit that he did not want to disrupt them.

The notion that Thybulle had to sit for Burke is non-sensical as Ben Simmons missed this game with an injury. If the goal was for Thybulle to rest that would have been foolish, but understandable. We will never know for sure, but fresh legs could have helped the Sixers close this game out.

Moving on

The Sixers will need to learn from this road trip and use it to improve. Hitting a soft portion of the schedule, the Sixers have a chance to get back on track.

The Sixers will play next on Sunday at 6:00 PM against the Charlotte Hornets. Hopefully, some home-cooking is just what the Sixers need.

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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