The Denver Nuggets were back at home after playing a three of their last four games on the road. Their opponent was the young and promising Philadelphia 76ers. The odds were in their favor though as the Sixers would be missing their star center Joel Embiid and Denver would give a great effort on Ben Simmons. It was actually another young member of Philadelphia that was the star though as Dario Saric had a huge game. The young Croatian led the way for Philadelphia who spoiled a big night from Jamal Murray and dealt the Nuggets just their fourth loss at home.
J.J. Redick opened up with two straight buckets for the Sixers followed by a Saric layup and the Nuggets called a timeout before they scored a point. Out of the TO Nikola Jokic found Murray with a nice flip pass and the Blue Arrow buried the open three to get the Nuggets on the board. It was Murray and Gary Harris who provided 19 of the Nuggets first 21 points. The 76ers kept pace by attacking the paint with a mixture of players, especially their two bigs Saric and Amir Johnson. Simmons also made plays on both ends of the court. The Nuggets bench kept up the scoring behind Will Barton but the Sixers held a 2 point lead at the end of the first quarter.
Trey Lyles opened up the second quarter by splashing a pair of threes. The Nuggets started to get stops on the defensive end and kept getting good looks on the offensive end to get a lead just under ten. Robert Covington got rolling a little bit to counter for the Sixers. Barton and Lyles powered the Nuggets offense early on but as the quarter progressed they started to have less success converting on the offensive end. Fortunately, the Nuggets tightened up their effort on the defensive side of the ball. Wilson Chandler once again proved up to the task of taking on a supremely talented forward and made Simmons work for every basket. The Sixers were still able to chip away because Denver had gone ice cold on offense. J.J. Redick hit a deep three to get Philadelphia a two for one opportunity but couldn’t convert and Denver held a slim lead 61-58 at half.
Murray kept up his scoring from the first half as the third quarter got going. Meanwhile the Sixers missed their first seven field goal attempts. The Nuggets went into a mini slump of their own before Harris pulled them out of it with a three pointer to put Denver up by 11. Philadelphia took a timeout but out of it the Nuggets had a beautiful sequence where Harris got a steal, went coast to coast for a monster dunk and then Mason Plumlee denied Covington on an alley-oop finish at the other end. Denver kept its lead just above ten as the quarter passed the half way mark but then suddenly everything changed. The 76ers went on an 11-0 run as the Nuggets suddenly got complacent and started to settle for jumpers instead of trying to get to the basket. Finally Jokic tried to get a bucket in the post and got fouled to stop the bleeding. Still, Denver looked disinterested and the 76ers stayed just a point behind them. With just under three minutes to go the 76ers went to intentionally fouling Plumlee which paid immediate dividends with Plumlee missing four straight free throws. Philly continued to attack the paint, which they had done ad naseum all quarter, while Denver continued to take jump shots. The Nuggets seized some momentum right at the end of the quarter as Lyles hit a deep buzzer beating three to put Denver down 83-80.
The fourth quarter started out poorly for the Nuggets. They committed a silly turnover while Jerryd Bayless suddenly couldn’t miss and scored eight straight points for the Sixers. Murray and Jokic calmed things down for the Nuggets with a pair of buckets that made coach Brett Brown take a quick timeout for Philly. Redick checked back in for Philadelphia and got a couple of buckets for them. The Sixers were maintaining a ten point lead because outside of Jokic and Murray no one else was making an effort to get to the basket. The door was being left open by Philadelphia’s turnovers but Denver was having a hard time converting on offense. Jokic finally came alive as the game headed down the final stretch but Redick was still hot. The Sixers couldn’t put the Nuggets away, they were missing shots as the game went inside three minutes with Denver trailing by just five points. It was incredibly frustrating how many times the Sixers were giving Denver a chance to get the lead back and the Nuggets just were unable to capitalize. Despite several missed shots in the final minutes the Nuggets couldn’t convert on their end, including some fairly easy looks. Jokic got two free throws to put Denver within 3 with about a minute to go, the Nuggets forced a turnover and got an open shot for Barton to try to tie the game but he missed (it was not a good not for Barton). Covington sank two free throws, the Nuggets had some fairly terrible late game execution and the Sixers finished them off with a RoCo break away dunk.
Best matchup: Dario Saric vs Nikola Jokic
A Balkan battle turned out to be a good one as both big men had strong games. Saric was putting up points for the Sixers and showing off his ability as a true inside out big man with threes and post moves. Nikola meanwhile didn’t have his most dominant game but he found a way to impact the game in all different areas as he chased his first triple double of the season. He ended up being short but still had a solid game and had some big minutes for Denver down the stretch. Saric was the star though as he led Philadelphia in scoring on the night. Just goes to show that the Balkans is a region that is stacked with basketball talent.
Main thing I noticed: Denver looked like they got comfortable
After the Nuggets got out to a good start it looked like they might run away with the game early in the third quarter but suddenly it was like they just decided they didn’t need to keep their foot on the fas. The Sixers came storming back in the game not necessarily because they were red hot from the field but because Denver suddenly was giving no effort at stopping them from getting into the lane. Likewise it’s like they decided to not drive the lane themselves entirely. It was a very weird development considering Denver should have been fairly well rested given they hadn’t played since Wednesday so there shouldn’t be a fatigue issue. For waht ever reason, the Nuggets just gave up on trying to win this game about 18 minutes before it was over
Closing thought: this might be the worst loss of the season
This is a bad loss all things considered. The Nuggets are one of the toughest teams to play at home and the Sixers were missing one of their best players. Throw on top of that that Denver built a double digit lead into the third quarter, plus the Sixers gave them every opportunity to get back the lead and it just adds insult to injury. There’s a lot of talk about how this team is maturing and also taking defense more seriously but night’s like tonight still show that there is a long ways to go. I can’t remember another game where the defense just collapsed so suddenly like it did in the third quarter. This was the type of game that Denver might look back on at the end of the season and really regret because it was one they should have had in more ways than one.