The Sixers snapped their five-game losing streak Thursday night and didn't even need to sweat out the final few minutes of their win over reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.
They sure didn't seem like a team that had forgotten how to win, going on a decisive second-quarter run and securing a 103-89 victory to move to 9-7.
Tyrese Maxey recorded 22 points, five rebounds and four assists. Seth Curry had 20 points, six boards and five assists.
Jokic posted 30 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
The Sixers were down Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle (health and safety protocols), Danny Green (left hamstring tightness), Ben Simmons (personal reasons) and Grant Riller (left knee injury recovery). Denver was without Jamal Murray (left knee injury recovery), Michael Porter Jr. (lower back pain) and Zeke Nnaji (right ankle sprain).
Next up for the Sixers is a Saturday night game against the Trail Blazers. Here are three observations on their win over the Nuggets:
Jokic can’t carry Nuggets
The Andre Drummond-Jokic matchup started poorly for the Sixers. Denver jumped out to an 11-4 lead and Jokic scored six early points.
Drummond was better after a Sixers timeout, though. He contested a Jokic three-pointer then beat him down the floor, sealed deep in the paint and made an and-one layup. Shortly after, he transitioned from a two-man game with Curry into a kick-out pass that led to a Tobias Harris three.
However, Jokic capitalized on a few Drummond mistakes and was a constant danger as a point-center. When Drummond tried to steal a perimeter pass, Jokic ran a smooth give-and-go, then converted a layup. And when Drummond allowed Jokic to reject a ball screen, the Serbian big man rumbled into the paint and drew a foul. Drummond was called for two first-quarter personals and Jokic racked up 15 points in the period.
He picked up where he left off in the second, ensuring the Nuggets were only down six at halftime. It’s not unusual for Jokic, but he appeared a step or two ahead of the game in the first half. And, on the plays in which the Sixers successfully got into his space or denied his first option, his patience, size and skill generally won out.
The second half was a frustrating one for Jokic and Denver, though. Jokic only managed three points after halftime as the Sixers were more determined to make him relinquish the ball. Denver had limited offensive firepower otherwise, leaning on Jokic and Will Barton (19 points, nine rebounds, eight assists).
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was ejected with 6:04 left in the third quarter, storming onto the court and being assessed two technical fouls.
Charles Bassey was tremendous during his first stint backing up Drummond.
A tip-in, two well-timed weak-side blocks, an offensive rebound that created a Curry three, and a rolling, and-one layup were among his positive plays. Impressive stuff, and a glimpse of why he was a highly touted high school recruit and an NBA prospect well before the Sixers selected him in the second round of this year’s draft.
“Bassey was great. ... You can just see it, his IQ," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters in Denver. “He got three blocks from behind because he read the play. And I think he had two or three rebounds where he caught it and instead of trying to go up and turning it over, he threw it out, which led to threes.
“He did a lot of good things. Good kid. The guys love him. So he gave us a lot of energy, because guys were so happy for him. That kind of filters through your team when stuff like that happens."
With Bassey on the floor, the Sixers established a 46-29 second-quarter lead. The team defense was strong — on top of the high-flying blocks, Bassey was solid as an anchor — and helped accelerate the Sixers’ pace. Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton and Georges Niang all made long-range jumpers during the Sixers’ extended run, too.
The Sixers were due to hit some shots after an abysmal shooting night Tuesday against the Jazz, and all the makes seemed to come at once. Curry was also on the money Thursday as a facilitator and looked like he fully expected every jumper to go in once they started dropping.
Bassey wasn’t a one-half wonder, showcasing the same springiness after intermission and finishing with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds and three blocks in 19 minutes.
“As a team, they know I can do that stuff," Bassey said. “They were just waiting for the time. Tobias, Jo, Danny Green, they tell me every time: 'Just get ready. Might not be this game or the next game, but just get ready. Just be focused. Just keep going. You might not play this game, but be ready. Even today, you might not play.’ And I played. They even talked to me; they were like, ‘You’ve been ready and you showed the world today what you’re made of. And just keep going.’"
Paul Reed was the odd man out in the frontcourt, tough luck given he’s had a few encouraging stretches with the Sixers shorthanded. Having multiple young, promising big men drafted late in the second round is certainly nice for the Sixers, though.
Team effort required
Maxey’s first quarter brought back memories of his 39-point performance for the seven-man Sixers last season in a January loss to Denver. He displayed his world-class downhill burst and stroked jumpers confidently.
A monster Maxey game might have been sufficient for the Sixers to win, but useful contributions from all eight rotation players was a preferable formula.
Harris (17 points, seven rebounds) began 1 for 5 from the floor, at times making hesitant decisions, but got into a third-quarter groove that enabled the Sixers to rebuild a healthy advantage. Milton had a second straight effective offensive game, this time off the bench, posting 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, five rebounds and four assists.
Niang is a player who tends to do well in these kinds of games where everyone chips in, even if he’s not a headliner. Starting for the first time as a Sixer, Niang had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. His jumper’s a threat, he likes dishing the ball to the open man, and he’s valuable to have in the frontcourt next to a non-shooter in Drummond.
Niang also had a decent defensive night. He’s not afraid of looking bad — and sometimes does — but often holds his ground against talented players. Aaron Gordon scored nine points on 4-for-13 shooting.