The Denver Nuggets faltered late and lost a thrilling matchup to the Philadelphia 76ers 126-121. The teams had no interest in defense early, scoring a combined 156 first half points, but Joel Embiid won the game for Philly with a personal 10-0 stretch of outscoring the Nuggets in the fourth. He finished with 41 points, 7 rebounds and 10 assists, while Nikola Jokic had 25 points, 19 rebounds and just 3 assists. Murray had 17 points and 10 assists, and Michael Porter Jr. added 20 points but they weren’t enough to overcome the Sixers in their own building – especially with Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris scoring 49 between them.

Game Recap

Tyrese Maxey hit a layup to start the scoring, answered by KCP’s paint jumper. Embiid was harassed and missed a shot while Jokic backed into the paint for a flip off the backboard, but Maxey’s three put Philly back up top. Aaron Gordon drew a foul on Embiid and finished a traditional three-point play. Embiid answered on the baseline, KCP hit a three, and MPJ made a push-shot for a 12-7 lead. Embiid buried a 3, then a long two over Jokic to tie it up again. MPJ and Maxey exchanged shots before Kelly Oubre stole an MPJ in-bounds for a bucket and a foul. Embiid blocked Jamal Murray, but MPJ nailed a three next time down and an 18-16 Nuggets lead halfway through the quarter.

Batum hit a rainbow last-second three, KCP made another mid-range bucket, and the Embiid assist put Philly back up 1. Porter buried his second three, grabbed a rebound on defense, and then Jokic had a putback of his own miss. AG dunked a deep miss from KCP, but Batum hit a three to keep it to a bucket separation. Christian Braun made a three, Embiid answered with a long 2, then a three for his 12th point of the quarter. Jokic scored over Embiid, Patrick Beverly threw in a push shot that AG matched on the other end, and Beverly’s 3 tied the game at 34. Reggie Jackson’s free throws were answered by an Embiid jumper but the DeAndre Jordan oop finish put Denver up 38-36 after one.

Christian Braun opened Denver’s second quarter scoring with a layup and finished a foul shot to boot, but Beverly hit another three. Paul Reed hit a putback after some Peyton Watson free throws before Braun buried a 3 from the top of the key, assisted by Jamal Murray. Murray made his first bucket, then was fouled on his next attempt to put Denver up 50-44. Maxey finished a beautiful drive for Philly, but Watson made a deep three for the Nuggets. The 76ers got some free throws, Tobias Harris forced in a bucket over Murray, but Denver still had the lead at 55-53 when Jokic and Embiid came back in.

Jokic tipped an AG miss in, but Harris drew more free throws then created a steal. Maxey hit a baseline runner to give Philly a one-point lead, and then Embiid got his second foul defending Jokic. He made his free throws and MPJ buried another three, while Embiid got a second foul on Jokic this time. Next time down, Embiid finished in the paint in transition, Jokic put one in off a KCP miss, and Maxey’s three tied it at 65 with three minutes to go. Murray made a finger-roll, Oubre answered at the rim, and a tough Murray finish with english kept the two teams neck-and-neck. Jokic’s bucket was answered by another Maxey 3, and Denver’s turnover turned into an Oubre finish. Embiid blocked Pope, Tobias Harris dunked in transition, and Denver had a deficit to close. AG’s dunk and Murray’s high-glass finish couldn’t quite get it done but Embiid’s jumper was matched by Murray’s buzzer-beating three and the teams went into half-time tied at 78.

Murray dished to Gordon for a dunk to start the second half scoring. MPJ made a free throw but Harris hit a 3 to tie it again. MPJ fouled Embiid on a 3 and Joel made all 3 free throws, Gordon dunked again off a Murray assist, but Maxey stayed automatic from deep to make it 87-83 Sixers. KCP and Jokic both made shots, but Oubre made another three over Jokic. Embiid and Murray exchanged buckets, but Denver struggled from the field for a couple minutes while the Sixers made a couple. KCP got a block on one end, Batum blocked Jokic on the other, and AG finally made a shot and got fouled to close it to a 97-92 Philly lead.

The teams finally started missing shot as both squads looked a little tired. Still, Batum made a shot, Reggie Jackson came in and buried a 3 off an AG assist, and KCP followed with one of his own. Denver went on a 15-2 run end the quarter with Jokic and Murray making shots and grabbing rebounds, heading into the fourth with the Nuggets up 104-99.

Harris made a couple of paint shots that Reggie matched with a floater to begin the fourth, and the Watson-to-Jordan dunk was pretty to keep Denver up 5. Maxey missed a couple of free throws, Paul Reed blocked Watson, and Harris’s 2 was matched by the open Reggie Jackson 3. Denver got stripped on a couple of possessions and Marcus Morris finised a four-point play to tie the game at 111 when Embiid and Jokic came back in.

Jokic immediately scored in the paint, while Maxey had MPJ goaltend his shot. Embiid’s eurostep put Philly up a bucket and forced a timeout after a 10-2 Sixer run. Another Embiid bucket and made foul shot put Philly up 5, then his three put Denver in an 8 point hole with under 5 minutes to go. Murray had a tough fourth quarter with some turnovers and missed a shot from 6 feet, while Embiid scored 10 in a row. Jokic finally broke the drought it was still 123-115 Sixers with 3 minutes to go. Nuggets kept turning the ball over though, and didn’t have their legs, scoring just 11 fourth-quarter points through the first 11 minutes. They fought back late with a three plus 3 free throws from MPJ in the final minute but Denver ran out of time and lost 126-121.

Final Thoughts:

It’s not that serious. Denver fans and Philly fans take this Embiid-Jokic rivalry as a way more meaningful matchup than it is in the regular season. Embiid and Jokic respect one another, but they both have bigger goals than regular season supremacy now. The Nuggets lost their groove late when Jamal Murray – who had been running the offense very well through three quarters – started turning the ball over and also couldn’t find his shot. Denver slipped a little, Embiid had a great 3-minute stretch, and that was it. If this was a playoff game would I be upset that MPJ was hot early and again ignored until the final minute, or that Denver had that stretch of turnovers from both Murray and Jokic where they weren’t really playing through Jokic the way they normally do in crucial minutes? That the Nuggets used Nikola to roam the perimeter in order to keep him out of foul trouble and it let Philly do whatever they wanted? Sure, probably.

But this wasn’t a playoff game, just a game between two really good teams. Denver didn’t show the Sixers much when it comes to a defensive blueprint for a potential Finals matchup, and I believe that was by design. It wouldn’t be the first time that Malone went basic in his approach to a team rather than show his hand too early. Philly could probably say the same – neither team was out there flashing a lot of defensive acumen for most of the game. Denver just blinked first tonight and lost their scoring efficiency. I can’t really vent about that.

The rematch is next week – we’ll see whether Embiid plays, but regardless this game was fun without being a referendum on anything in particular. Denver would like a winning road trip and this loss makes that tougher to achieve, but sometimes a good team will just have a better night. On to Boston!