HOUSTON — A double-digit lead is never safe against the Rockets, is it?
The Sixers beat the Rockets for the first time in eight meetings, 115-107, but it wasn’t without another near-letdown in the fourth quarter.
Ben Simmons turned in a team-high 24 points as the Sixers had seven players score in double figures Monday night. Joel Embiid was right behind him with 22 points.
Let’s get right to the final minutes of the game and then see how they got there.
Fast-forward to 9:30 to go when the Sixers were up 10. The Rockets started to chip away, cutting the Sixers’ lead all the way down to five with 8:37 to play. The Sixers responded by going up 10 again behind an offensive rebound, layup, block and steal by Embiid.
From that point, the Rockets went on a 6-0 run to make it 103-99 with four minutes left. Embiid grabbed the rebound off Clint Capela’s attempted go-ahead layup to halt the Rockets’ momentum.
The Sixers hit two straight baskets to go up five, but just like they did in their last meeting with the Rockets, committed a 24-second violation down the stretch. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza both missed threes that would have brought the Rockets back within two.
• The last time the Sixers beat the Rockets was Nov. 13, 2013. Does that feel like a long time ago? Well, consider this: Tony Wroten posted an 18-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double in his first career start. The Sixers’ James Anderson led all players in scoring (36 points).
And the last time the Sixers won in Houston dates even further back to Feb. 16, 2011.
• So how did it all begin on Monday night? The Sixers shot a season-high 65.2 percent from the field in the first quarter to jump out to a 10-point advantage. The Rockets saw a window of opportunity when Simmons took a seat halfway through the second. They went on a 7-0 run and cut the deficit to one point. The Sixers pushed their edge back up to seven points after Simmons checked back in. Dario Saric hit a pair of threes and Simmons found Embiid for an alley-oop. The Sixers ended the quarter with three straight turnovers, though, and were up just two at halftime.
• The Rockets’ backcourt took turns dominating in the first half. James Harden played the entire first quarter and scored 12 points, including 6 of 7 at the line, which the Sixers wanted to limit. Eric Gordon didn’t attempt a shot in the first but exploded for 15 points as he played the entire second quarter. He hit a trio of threes, which wasn’t even the biggest standout. He took a whopping nine shots, 75 percent of his total season average of 12.0 attempts per game. Harden (25) and Gordon (29) were the only Rockets with over 15 points.
• The Sixers were locked in on limiting the sharpshooting Rockets from three and at the line. Their efforts paid off as the Rockets shot 13 of 47 (27.7 percent) from long range. The Rockets outscored the Sixers 28-17 at the free throw line, led by 10 of 12 from Harden.
• Embiid, Saric, Simmons and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (see below) combined for 47 of the Sixers’ 58 first-half points. Harden and Gordon were responsible for 30 of the Rockets’ 56.
• The Sixers kept the Rockets at bay in the third, going up by as many as 14 points. The Sixers again reached 65 percent from the field, partially in thanks to T.J. McConnell, who led the team with eight points (2 for 2 from three) in five minutes (read more on McConnell here). Amir Johnson pulled down six rebounds in the third to match the Rockets’ team total. Harden added another 11 points but no other Rocket scored more than four.
• Embiid didn't show signs of being bothered by his right hand contusion. He knocked down 9 of 12 field goals (22 points), pulled down nine boards and dished five assists (see highlights).
• Simmons made three jump shots — yes, jump shots — from 16 and 17 feet from the basket. Entering the game, he had shot just 0 for 2 in the 16- to 24-foot range from the hoop. Simmons neared a double-double with 24 points, nine assists and seven boards (see highlights). He was mixing up his shot locations, not just focusing in the paint, during pregame drills.
• Luwawu-Cabarrot broke out to a hot start. He scored 11 points on a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in six minutes during the first quarter. Luwawu-Cabarrot also went 2 for 2 from three, seeing the results of taking hundreds of three-point shots every practice.
• Robert Covington was in a very different situation in Houston nearly three years ago to the day. He was waived by the Rockets on Oct. 27, 2014.
• Embiid fouled Luc Mbah a Moute and knocked him to the ground. Embiid helped him up and Mbah a Moute replied with a friendly tap on the back. Mbah a Moute has played a major role in Embiid’s career, first recognizing the big man’s potential when Embiid attended his basketball camp in Cameroon back in 2011.