3 Observations as Sixers Fall to Nuggets Despite Embiid’s 34-Point Performance

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers dropped a tough one to the Denver Nuggets, 114-110, in a game which proved to be everything it was billed up as.

Joel Embiid put on a show, scoring 34 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 shooting from three-point range to go with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Nikola Jokic responded in kind with his own special performance, totaling 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

James Harden bounced back with an efficient night after shooting poorly the prior two games, finishing with 24 points (6-of-11 shooting, 11-of-12 from the free-throw line), nine rebounds and 11 assists.

The Sixers had this game in their grasp, but they missed too many open looks. They shot 42.9 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from beyond the arc.

It is always tough to lose a game when Embiid puts together the performance he did, but the Sixers will have to regroup and move onto the next game. They next take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road on Wednesday night. Here are three observations from the loss:

The Embiid vs. Jokic matchup

The matchup everyone paid attention to throughout the game was the battle between Embiid and Jokic, two of the league's top MVP candidates this season. The matchup certainly did not disappoint.

Embiid had the advantage early on, helping the Sixers to a 37-22 lead through one quarter of play. The Sixers as a team shot 60.9 percent from the field in the first quarter and received a balanced scoring effort, with three different players scoring more than five points.

Embiid scored 12 points in the opening quarter and was generally hitting on all cylinders. He knocked down a pair of threes, including a step-back three to give the Sixers a 27-14 lead with 4:51 remaining in the first quarter.

The raucous crowd at the Wells Fargo Center went berserk after that play, with MVP chants serenading Embiid heading into the timeout. When his three-point shooting is on like it was against Denver, he is nearly impossible to stop due to the plethora of other ways he can attack offensively.

Jokic also put together a great showing, doing a bit of everything to propel the Nuggets offense throughout the night. He is definitely one of the league's best passers, especially as a center, and he battled Embiid up and down the court.

It looked like Embiid had the slight edge when the two were on the court together, but Jokic and the Nuggets absolutely took advantage of the times when Embiid was off the court. Embiid got into early foul trouble, committing his third foul with 1:56 remaining in the first half and sitting for the remainder of the half. The Nuggets went on an 8-0 run to end the half and cut the Sixers' lead down to five points at halftime.

Embiid was dominant for the Sixers tonight, effectively putting together a performance worthy of an MVP-caliber player. The Nuggets had no answers for him, with his foul trouble being the only thing remotely holding him back. He did a good job playing through the foul trouble in the second half, scoring 13 points in the third quarter.

De'Andre Jordan had a brutal night on both ends of the floor. He finished with three points (on 1-of-6 shooting) and six rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench. He is still a solid rebounder, but he has lost a step defensively and is nearing the point of being a defensive liability when out on the floor. There was some hope he could still be an adequate backup center when the Sixers signed him, but the early results are not positive.

Thybulle's impressive defensive night

The Sixers struggled defensively as a team for much of the night (outside of the first quarter), but Matisse Thybulle proved to be the exception. He was active all over the floor, especially in the first quarter. He finished the quarter with nine points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting to go with two rebounds, two assists, four steals and a block.

Thybulle has yet to be a consistent offensive player this season, but the Sixers' coaching staff has figured out different ways to keep him involved in the offense. He has improved as a cutter and the team had some recent success using him as a screener when Harden has the ball. The two have developed a solid chemistry through their first handful of games together due to the combination of Thybulle's cutting and Harden's vision to find him around the basket.

Thybulle would go on to tie his career-high for steals in a game, swiping six of them against the Nuggets. He had a tremendous impact on the game defensively, including playing great help defense at times against Jokic.

He finished the game with nine points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks in addition to the six steals. He was struggling a ton the past few games, but his performance against the Nuggets served as a reminder of the potential he has out on the court when everything is clicking.

While Thybulle had a great defensive night, the team struggled defensively as a whole. They allowed the Nuggets to shoot 53.7 percent from the field, and the familiar struggles of poor transition defense continued to haunt them. The Nuggets scored 29 fast-break points as Jokic's passing and court vision consistently led to easy buckets. It is amazing how clear the team's transition defense struggles are, and yet they have failed to improve it at all.

Sixers struggle in the fourth quarter

The Sixers took a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets swarmed them and went on to get the win. They were outscored 33-22 in the fourth quarter due to a combination of missed shots and hot shooting from the Nuggets.

Bones Hyland's hot stretch in the fourth quarter swung the momentum in Denver's direction. With the game going back and forth, Hyland connected from beyond the arc on three consecutive possessions midway through the fourth quarter, including draining a three from the logo. He finished with 21 points off the bench for the Nuggets.

The Sixers were able to take a one-point lead inside of two minutes remaining, but another Hyland three and a circus-shot make from Jokic gave the Nuggets a four-point lead with 1:32 remaining.

The Sixers fought back and were within three points in the final possession. However, Georges Niang missed a corner three, got the offensive rebound and then rushed a floater up before eventually fouling Jokic and sealing the loss. Niang struggled all night, scoring eight points on 2-of-10 shooting from three-point range. The final possession was especially bad for Niang, who lost awareness of how much time was left on the clock and took a floater (with the team down three) instead of passing it to a wide open Tyrese Maxey for a chance to tie the game as time expired.

All the blame on that possession should not go to Niang, as the team still had a timeout remaining and head coach Doc Rivers did not call it at any point during the chaotic final seconds.

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