When the buzzer sounded, all of the Sixers’ efforts leading up to the last five seconds of the game had been erased.
The Rockets stole a 105-104 victory Wednesday off a three by Eric Gordon as time expired. The Sixers had been poised to snap their seven-game winless streak against the Rockets but blundered their lead by giving up the last nine points to Houston and going scoreless in the final 3:05.
Even though the Rockets were chipping away, the Sixers still looked on the verge of pulling off the upset. They led by five with 30.0 seconds remaining and then it all changed after a tumble at the basket.
James Harden was fouled by JJ Redick on a layup attempt. Joel Embiid was playing so aggressively that he blocked the shot and fell to the floor on top of Harden.
After an official review, Embiid was called for goaltending to count the basket. Harden nailed the free throw to cut the Sixers’ lead to two with a half minute left.
The Sixers failed to get a shot off on the next possession, which set it up for Gordon and the Rockets to steal a win with five seconds remaining in front of a stunned Wells Fargo Center crowd. The Rockets celebrated at half court while the roar of the arena was quieted.
• Embiid had played his last game of the previous season on Jan. 27 ... against the Rockets. He showed that injury-stricken period of his career is behind him with 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 25 minutes (see highlights). Even though Embiid looked tired at points in the third quarter, he was in the game at the end. He also put together a series of highlight moments (see below).
• Gordon hit the game-winner but this game was not without the fingerprints of Harden on it. Harden did what he does and made another double-double look easy. The Rockets' backcourt duo of Harden and Gordon combined for 56 points.
• Ben Simmons fell one dime shy of his fifth straight double-double (14 points, seven rebounds, nine assists) (see highlights). He went 1-on-1 against Clint Capela and drove by the 6-foot-10 center like there was no one standing in his way.
• How do you make the Wells Fargo Center erupt in cheers? Well, Embiid has mastered a few ways. First, he brought the arena to its feet with a surging dunk from T.J. McConnell. As the crowd began to chant “Trust the Process” in the third, Embiid waved while he stepped to the line. He missed the first and raised his arms again to elicit more noise from the fans. He made the second shot. And then there’s pulling up for a three over Harden and banking it in. That’s always a crowd pleaser.
• McConnell has made an NBA career out of staying ready. He will be on the receiving end of the majority of Markelle Fultz’s minutes now that the rookie is sidelined with a sore shoulder (see story). Just as he has done in the past, McConnell is prepared to step up in the place of an injured teammate. He said a key to success in this situation is staying consistent, not changing what got him to this point … and making plays like this don’t hurt, either.
• You know the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed …” Amir Johnson missed a driving slam in the third quarter and fell out of bounds. McConnell stole the ball seconds later and dished it to Johnson as he ran back into play. This time, a smiling Johnson made the dunk.
• Former Sixer Isaiah Canaan got a rude welcome back to Philadelphia when Johnson stuffed him at the basket during a first-quarter drive. The Rockets signed Canaan this week amid the injury to Chris Paul.