Observations from the Sixers loss in Denver without their three stars

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Embiid sixers
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid celebrates after their win against the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A showdown between the league’s two best centers was scheduled months ago to be on national television. Jokic versus Embiid was the draw, but a last-minute decision to rest the Sixers’ most dominant player changed the outlook of the game. Yet, it was entertaining until the end.

Next man up

In 2021, as the NBA was reestablishing league protocol after the COVID pandemic, the Sixers had a significant amount of players unavailable for a game on a frigid January afternoon. Sound familiar?

Anyone want to guess their opponent? It was the Denver Nuggets. In that game, the Sixers only played seven players. In Saturday’s ABC televised game, the Sixers were down three starters. This was far from the ideal showdown during NBA Rivals Week.

That 2021 Nuggets matchup was the most bizarre thing to watch, an almost depleted Sixers bench on the sideline with empty seats in the stands. It was that game though that people began to realize that Tyrese Maxey was pretty good at basketball (he scored 39 that day). This time around, it wasn’t Maxey who put up big numbers, because he was sidelined with a sore ankle. Instead, it was another young role player who’d step up.

Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) battles Philadelphia 76ers’ Nicolas Batum (40) and Paul Reed (44) for a rebound during the first of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Another missed game from Joel Embiid gave Nick Nurse the challenge of stopping Nikola Jokic with an undersized frontcourt (Mo Bamba was out, too). The reigning MVP’s absence also caused Denver’s coach to adjust.

From an ESPN article, Mike Malone lamented how the Nuggets game plan had to change, because Embiid was abruptly scratched from the Sixers lineup. “We found out very late and again, I don’t know how you go from being active/available to out,” Malone complained. 

Who didn’t complain? Paul Reed did the opposite. He took advantage of his playing time early and often. Surprisingly, Reed did most of his damage with mid-range shots. 

Throughout the game, he was impactful with his jumper, but his emphatic put-back slam in the second half helped the Sixers go on a run and eventually take the lead. It was the momentum builder that few saw coming against the recent NBA champs. Reed finished the game with 30 points and 13 boards.

He wasn’t the only one that benefited from so many players being out. Marcus Morris, Sr. got the starting nod when Tobias Harris became unavailable due to illness.

Morris’s jumper was on as well, knocking down shots from the perimeter. It’s not like he was just spotting up, either. Several of his shots were of high difficulty, requiring patience and good measure to create space.

Atlanta Hawks forward Saddiq Bey (41) works against Philadelphia 76ers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

There is some speculation as to this being a “rest” game for the starters, knowing that the trade deadline is right around the corner. Was Daryl Morey giving his stars off the night because he wants to showcase the skills of players that are available on the trade market?

The speculation is enticing to consider. How else would Kevin Martin, Jr. and Furkan Korkmaz get so many minutes? The most dubious move of the night was having Kevin Martin on the floor late in the fourth quarter, when Nicolas Batum, who is clearly a more polished player, was on the bench.

It is confusing how Batum is one of the team’s best three-point shooters, but didn’t even attempt one the entire game.

The Beverley Effect

There’s a concept known as the Butterfly Effect that eventually became a movie, starring Ashton Kutcher. The film is about time travel and reliving the past. The concept is about how the smallest action can have a huge impact on a phenomenon. Yesterday’s game was a little bit of both.

For this article, we go into the Patrick “Beverley” Effect because every little thing he did on the floor against the Nuggets made a big difference. His stat line was impressive. He ended up with 17 points and 11 assists. Add to that four rebounds and two blocks.

As the starting point guard, it became evident early how effective he would be.

Houston Rockets’ Jeff Green (32) goes up for a shot between Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) and Patrick Beverley (22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

He was more than comfortable running the show. Calling out plays and making quick decisions within the flow of the offense showed Beverley’s veteran experience. The more he played, the more you saw how fundamentally skilled he is as a player.

His patented hard drive into the lane, quick stop, and turn-around jump hook seemed unstoppable. His baseline drive and dish to Oubre, who cut to the rim for a dunk was a thing of beauty. And that’s just the offense.

In the fourth quarter alone, Beverley had several blocks, a swipe steal that was incorrectly taken away, and was coaching his teammates on the sideline on how to handle Denver’s half-court sets.

If there was a positive note to take away from this game besides the surprising play of Paul Reed, it was the veteran leadership and production from Pat Beverley. 

Up next for the Sixers

The Sixers play again on Monday in Portland. Tip-off is 10pm EST.