By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 124, Denver 122 – Box Score
On the tail end of a road back-to-back and playing with just 9 active players against a Denver Nuggets team hitting its stride lately, there were plenty of valid excuses for why the Sixers could have run out of gas down the stretch Friday night. But thanks to some key defensive plays and clutch free throw shooting from Joel Embiid (5-6 in the final minute, 12-14 on the game), and a little bit of luck, the Sixers closed out 2016 on a winning note.
Still, they almost Sixers-ed the ending, as Embiid was whistled for a foul against Nikola Jokic (game-high 25 points) on a three-point attempt with 4 seconds left and Philadelphia up by 4. Jokic made the first two shots before intentionally missing the third. Naturally, the Nuggets grabbed the offensive rebound, and had not one, not two, but three putback attempts before time expired. Somehow, contrary to every ending we’ve seen from the Sixers these last few years, none of those shots went in, and the Sixers escaped with a victory.
As mentioned, Embiid played well, finished with a line of 23 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. Even on a night when he only hit 1 of 5 three-point attempts, teams have to respect the outside shot, allowing him to make plays like this:
— Michael K-B (@therealmikekb) December 31, 2016
Yet, for the Sixers, it was a solid team effort across the board. Ersan Ilyasova was on fire from the perimeter, knocking down 5-6 threes for 23 points and 13 rebounds. Robert Covington finally shook off his shooting slump, scoring 15 points in the third quarter alone (19 on the game). Dario Saric dropped his 4th double-double of the season, playing a well-rounded game that included 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists against just 1 turnover.
Finally, TJ McConnell played the unusual role of closer in the fourth quarter. Entering play 3-19 from three on the season, TJ was 3-3 against the Nuggets, scoring double digits in the fourth quarter alone, as he tallied 17 points and 8 assists on the game.
With New Year’s Eve upon us, the most important thing for 2017 is making sure Joel Embiid is an All-Star. Not only has his play warranted it, but per his post-game interview, he’s playing for love. #NBAVote Joel Embiid and Happy New Year’s everyone!
— CSN Philly (@CSNPhilly) December 31, 2016