Sixers win again as Markelle Fultz makes long-awaited return

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 123, Denver 104 – Box Score

(Disclaimer: Despite his +16, Markelle Fultz was not the reason the Sixers won Monday, their 7th straight win to pull within one game of Cleveland for the third seed in the East. Joel Embiid was an absolute monster, dunking somebody the announcers were calling Paul Millsap into oblivion and roaming everywhere defensively, at one point guarding three different people on a single possession. Ben Simmons had a double-double on rebounds and assists because Rookie of the Years don’t have to be shoot-first guards. Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and J.J. Redick combined to shoot 11-21 from three, with Dario doing a Super Mario leap that you’ll see in GIF form for the rest of his Sixers career. Still, Monday night was all about Markelle Fultz. So is this recap.)

Where were you when you heard the news? Less than two hours before tip-off, Brett Brown made the out-of-nowhere announcement that Markelle Fultz would be playing in his first game since October 23. Suddenly, everything else in the world became secondary. Every local and national basketball writer/reporter/fan instantly declared Monday night’s Sixers/Nuggets game Must-See-TV. A friend texted me if I wanted to buy tickets on the secondary market last-minute and go down for the Fultz return game (I could not because I was helping to facilitate a puppy finding a new home, long story).

The point is, Fultz playing after missing close to 70 games with a mysterious shoulder injury, that we still haven’t received a clear explanation about, provided the perfect combination of shock, fascination, and intrigue. Once you heard, you weren’t doing anything else Monday night.

Even watching the game from home was a surreal experience. As soon as Fultz rose up from the bench to enter the game, the crowd rose in unison to give him a standing ovation.

They continued standing and cheering as he brought the ball up for the first time. After his nervous energy caused Fultz to turn it over on his very first possession, they still stood and cheered the second time he brought the ball up. And you better believe folks were excited when he swooped in for his first points of the game.

With minutes left in the game and the Sixers running the clock down on another blowout victory, the crowd began chanting for Fultz to re-enter the contest.

Remarkably, Brett Brown acquiesced. It’s a good thing he did, as those last three minutes became a showcase for Fultz to make like Austin Powers and regain his mojo. The Sixers repeatedly put Fultz in the pick-and-roll and got him switched onto Mason Plumlee, who had already blocked Markelle a couple times earlier in the game. Fultz made some sort of adjustment though, and finally got a 14-footer up and over the Nuggets center, hitting the front rim and backboard before finding its way down. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a made jumper, and Philadelphia rejoiced. The next one was both successful and pretty.

During what was essentially a high school showcase atmosphere centered around Fultz, the Wells Fargo Center crowd did the Vikings skol chant with “Fultz” now replacing “Foles”, because we have become a crazy town fueled by non-stop victory in 2018.

Final line for Markelle Fultz: 10 points on 5-13 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 8 assists against just that very first turnover. Questions answered about the shoulder: zero. Maybe we’ll get those someday. For now, everything we witnessed on the court was enough.

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