PHILADELPHIA — In the latest battle of friends turned enemies, Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers took this round from Ben Simmons and the Nets on Wednesday night.
The two jawed at one another at different points of the night, the fans booed Simmons when he was introduced during warmups and cheered loudly when he missed his only shot of the first half. In the end of what turned into a spirited matchup between two Eastern Conference opponents, the Nets just didn’t have the juice to hold off the high-powered Philadelphia offense in a 137-133 loss at Wells Fargo Center.
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The Nets had launched a late-game comeback, erasing a 14-point deficit in the middle of the fourth quarter. Brooklyn went on an 8-0 run anchored by a Joe Harris and Seth Curry three and a Yuta Watanabe dunk.
Then after the 76ers had opened up a 120-112 lead with 5:45 to play, the Nets again responded with seven straight points to tie the game at 120 with just over four minutes to play. Five straight points from former Net James Harden quickly broke the tie and a driving dunk by Harden gave Philadelphia some cushioning with less than 30 seconds left in the game.
Watanabe had a layup of his own with 13 seconds on the clock to cut the Nets’ deficit to just, but the 76ers hit two free throws to put the game away.
“Yeah, thought we had it man. We fought, we fought. And we just weren’t able to get it,” Nic Claxton said about the comeback that fell short. “James, he had a couple of big shots and then the rebound, kick-out to Maxey for the three. So we were right there but definitely, it’s no moral victory here. We wanted to win the game. So we just got to watch the film and get ready for Detroit.”
The Nets had entered the night a game and a half back of the 76ers in the Eastern Conference standings and had won two straight after snapping a four-game skid. Wednesday night marked the seventh game that Brooklyn has played without injured superstar Kevin Durant, who had been out since Jan. 8 with an MCL sprain.
While the Nets tried to downplay any sense of rivalry with the 76ers, the game certainly had an added edge to it all night as several players traded trash talk and the intensity seemed dialed up from the Nets’ first visit in November when the Sixers had been missing several of their star players.
“Well it is rivalry week, right? So whenever we have divisional games like that, I know it’s gonna be tough,” Kyrie Irving said. “And, you know, there is a bit of an edge. We’ve got guys that have been traded to our team, guys that feel like they kinda were put out there in the ethos of free agency. So we definitely have a chip on our shoulder and every time we go against Philly, there’s something there. It’s not anything outside of competition. It’s just when we get on the court, we definitely want to beat each other, and I love those types of environments and when you come to Philly, we know what it’s gonna be: a lot of chirping, very physical, the refs could be going either which way and we’ve just got to adjust.
“I’m grateful that we got this lesson tonight. It didn’t result in a W but a loss we can definitely learn from and get ready for tomorrow.”
This time around that wasn’t the case as former Net James Harden and Joel Embiid were both on the court Wednesday night and Embiid was his normal trash-talking self. Simmons and Embiid were caught talking by the TV broadcast as the third quarter had been getting underway.
“First play, Ben (Simmons) is guarding Joel (Embiid),” Philadelphia had coach Doc Rivers said. “(The crowd) was like a party. It was hilarious. That’s when I turned to the crowd and said ‘this is a boxing crowd tonight.’ They want to see ’em drop the basketball, turn and duke it out.”
Simmons contested Embiid on five of his first-half shots which he went 0-for-5 on, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Sixers superstar was also stuffed by Nets big man Nic Claxton late in the first quarter, but Brooklyn turned the ball back over and allowed Embiid to get an easy basket at the end of the sequence.
Simmons ended the night with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting against his former team after a rough start on Wednesday night. He scored 10 of his total points in the third quarter.
Irving finished with 30 points and shot 9-of-15 from the field, along with 10 assists and two steals. Seth Curry had 32 points off the bench for Brooklyn while knocking down seven threes and Claxton had 25 points.
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