Man, Wednesday was just not the Philadelphia 76ers’ day.
After continuing Tuesday’s confusing and controversial back-and-forth over what, exactly, is up with the troubled right shoulder of Markelle Fultz by announcing that they’re shutting the No. 1 overall pick down for the next three games — which, naturally, did not put an end to the saga at all — the Sixers took on James Harden and the Houston Rockets at Wells Fargo Center. It did not end well for the hosts.
With 6.4 seconds remaining and the Sixers clinging to a 104-102 lead, the Rockets triggered an inbounds play. They could have looked for a chance to tie. Instead, they went for the win …
… and got it.
Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon inbounded the ball, guarded by 7-foot-2 Sixers center Joel Embiid, before sprinting to the left corner. Houston forward Ryan Anderson caught the pass, then promptly set up for a dribble handoff to Harden, streaking toward the ball from the backcourt. Anderson screened Harden’s defender, Jerryd Bayless, but that triggered the switch Philly was looking for, siccing the long-limbed and tenacious Robert Covington on Harden with just over four ticks left.
Harden drove to his left, with Covington on his hip, and started to make his way inside the 3-point arc. As he did, Embiid slid over to help Covington out, trying to impede Harden’s progress and perhaps force a turnover that would have sealed the game. Instead, Harden picked up his dribble and shuttled the ball to Gordon, now suddenly unguarded, in the near corner. Embiid tried to recover to contest, but Gordon pump-faked him out of the play, calmly took an escape dribble to his right, rose, fired and drilled a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer to deliver a 105-104 victory and deal another blow to the 20,682 faithful in attendance in Philadelphia.
Coming off an impressive win on Monday, things seemed to be going pretty well for Brett Brown’s crew, who got 20-plus-point performances from Embiid, Covington and J.J. Redick, as well as strong playmaking from Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell, to lead by eight after a Simmons layup with 3:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. From there, though, the wheels absolutely fell off.
The Sixers came up empty on their final six trips in the fourth quarter. Simmons got a layup blocked at the rim. Redick saw two hoped-for dagger 3-pointers born out of stagnant possessions come up empty. Philadelphia committed three crucial late turnovers, including a 24-second violation with six seconds remaining after the 6-foot-10 Simmons found himself unable to muscle past or scoot around 6-foot-4 fire hydrant Gordon to get a shot up with the clock winding down. (It’s worth wondering if perhaps Brown should have gone back to McConnell over Bayless down the stretch to get another ball-handler, creator and defender on the floor to help hold onto the lead.)
On the other end, Houston just plugged away. Gordon, who’d finish with a game-high 29 points, five assists and four rebounds, worked his way to the line for a pair of free throws, making one to get the deficit down to seven with 1:39 to play. A scrambled possession ended with Harden lofting up something toward the rim that could have been a shot, but that landed in the hands of center Clint Capela for a layup that cut it to five. And after Redick’s second miss, Harden (27 points, 13 assists, three blocks, three rebounds, eight turnovers) drove to the paint, where Embiid met him in a moment that surely stopped thousands of hearts in the greater Houston and Philadelphia areas:
Close your eyes, 76ers fans. Embiid… pic.twitter.com/4upta6irFm
— Dime on UPROXX (@DimeUPROXX) October 26, 2017
Mercifully, both Embiid and Harden somehow got up off the floor none the worse for wear. After a lengthy video review, the referees ruled that Embiid had gotten Harden’s layup on the way down, making it a goaltending violation. They also called a foul on Redick, giving Harden an and-one that cut the deficit to two. From there, it was Gordon — first with his defense on Simmons to force the 24-second violation, and then with the game-winning dagger — who did the rest, stealing a win for Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets and giving Sixers fans one more thing to feel bummed out about on a rough, rough Wednesday.
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