76ers

Sixers' road trip ends in a collapse as big lead slips away in Denver and Nikola Jokic makes game-winner

Sixers' road trip ends in a collapse as big lead slips away in Denver and Nikola Jokic makes game-winner

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ four-game West Coast road trip ended Friday night in a collapse.

They blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter in Denver and fell to their third straight loss, 100-97, to the Nuggets.

Nikola Jokic won it for Denver after a broken, chaotic play that ended with him knocking down a long jumper from the left elbow extended. 

The Sixers, now 5-3 on the year, tried inbounding it to Joel Embiid on their final possession, but he was called for a push off.

Ben Simmons was out for the Sixers with a Grade 1 AC joint sprain in right shoulder. He’ll be re-evaluated before the Sixers play the Hornets Sunday (6 p.m./NBCSP+).

Offense falls apart late 

The Sixers only managed 13 points in the fourth period. They had problems with the basics, like throwing good entry passes to Embiid and making open shots in the paint, and just about everything was a struggle. It was not hard to tell they were playing the last game of a long trip — Al Horford’s air ball of an open three from the top of the key before Jokic's game-winner summed up their efforts in the fourth. 

Jokic wins this duel 

Embiid admitted after Wednesday’s loss in Utah that the altitude affected him, and he again appeared lethargic for much of the game in the Mile High City.

He was the last man down the floor time after time and was slow in his decision making. 

But, after starting 1 for 9 from the floor and taking a seat five minutes into the third quarter, Embiid woke up a bit when he checked back into the game, hitting four straight shots and helping the Sixers build their lead back up— for the time being — after a Denver run. Embiid finished with 19 points on 6 of 17 shooting, 15 rebounds and eight turnovers.

His block of Paul Millsap’s emphatic dunk attempt was one of the plays of the night. 

Jokic wasn’t quite himself either for most of the night before elevating his play in the second half. He picked up a technical in the first quarter for arguing what he thought was a foul by Mike Scott under the rim and his body language was somewhere between exasperated and infuriated in the first half, but give him credit for turning it around. He tallied 26 points (16 in the fourth quarter), 11 rebounds and six assists. 

A strong night for the bench 

The Sixers’ bench put them in a good position to win this game, outscoring the Nuggets’ 37-12.

Furkan Korkmaz looks like he believes everything he puts up is going in. He’s using his pump fake well to both create open jumpers and to draw fouls, shooting the ball with balance and hunting opportunities to score.

He had 12 points on 4 for 6 shooting and was 3 for 3 from three-point range. The Sixers had their best night as a team from long range, converting 13 of 26 attempts. 

Trey Burke had to wait seven games, but he finally made his regular-season debut as a Sixer in Denver.

He showed his best skill on his first basket — the ability to use a ball screen or stare down his defender in isolation and create a shot — sinking a jumper from the left elbow with 0.2 seconds left in the first quarter off a screen from Embiid. 

We saw the best and worst of James Ennis, who was beaten twice on back doors in the first half and once by Will Barton. He also converted a difficult layup after a steal that required elaborate body contortion and slammed in a dunk off a Burke miss. 

Kyle O’Quinn (11 points on 5 for 6 shooting) gave Brett Brown quality minutes in the second quarter before taking a seat in the second half.

Neto steps into the lineup  

For the second time in the last three-plus seasons, Raul Neto started an NBA game.

He played very well, with the exception of a couple of occasions late in the shot clock when he dished the hot potato off to a teammate after being unable to generate anything himself.

Neto held Gary Harris, his primary assignment, to five points on 2 for 9 shooting, and also posted 13 points and six assists himself. He’s about nine inches shorter than Simmons and substantially less athletic than the All-Star, but Neto was a decent temporary replacement. 

Thybulle sits 

Rookie Matisse Thybulle stayed on the bench Friday. He’s struggled with his shot early in his NBA career (24.2 percent from the field) and hadn’t recorded a steal or a block in the Sixers’ last two games.

Thybulle had an incredible first few games in the NBA defensively, but he’s often seemed a step behind the game on offense, and missing open threes certainly hasn’t helped as far as his level of comfort or confidence.  

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

sixers-talk-okc-ben-simmons.jpg
NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Brett Brown's decision to have Furkan Korkmaz play key minutes in overtime, using more pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid, and the loss to the Thunder.

• Should Brown have gone to Korkmaz when Tobias Harris fouled out in overtime?

• Do the Sixers need to rework their offense?

• The starting lineup looked good at times, but what went wrong in OKC?

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