Two contenders in their respective conferences went at it when the Denver Nuggets hosted the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night. The game was the second of two meetings between the teams on the season, as the Nuggets bested an extremely shorthanded Sixers squad back in January. Heading into the second matchup, the Nuggets sat fifth in the competitive Western Conference playoff picture, while the Sixers occupied the top spot in the East.
Typically, a contest between the Nuggets and Sixers features a battle of arguably the two best centers in the game in Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. That wasn't the case this time though, as Embiid remains sidelined with a bone bruise in his knee. The Sixers hope to have him back soon, and they certainly could have used his services on Tuesday night. Without Embiid in the lineup, Denver faced little rim resistance, and they were able to capitalize. Over the course of the contest, the Nuggets shot 48 percent from the floor, and 38 percent from long range and ultimately they walked away with a 104-95 win. Jamal Murray led the way for the Nuggets with 30 points and six rebounds, and Michael Porter Jr. added 27 points and 12 rebounds of his own. Rookie Tyrese Maxey led the way for Philadelphia with 13 points.
Here's a look at four takeaways from Denver's win over Philadelphia.
1. Denver dominated early and never relinquished the lead
In case you just saw the score and didn't actually get to watch the game, here's what you need to know. The final score makes the game look a lot closer than it actually was. This wasn't a close contest for the vast majority of the 48 minutes. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Denver dominated the game from early on, and then never really looked back. The Nuggets doubled the Sixers up in the first quarter and led 44-22 after 12 minutes of action. By halftime, the score was 68-45 and it was clear that the Nuggets were in control. In fact, Jokic, Murray, and Porter Jr. outscored the Sixers themselves in the first half, 48-45.
The Sixers made some major inroads in the second half to make the score respectable. Philadelphia even outscored Denver 50-36 over the final 24 minutes, thanks largely to some solid bench play. Ultimately though, the hole that the Sixers dug for themselves in the first half was just too big to overcome. The Sixers have blown leads in the past, but this was the opposite situation. They came on strong late but were doomed by their slow start as Denver pulled out a wire-to-wire win.
2. Michael Porter Jr. continues his stretch of productive play
Michael Porter Jr. had himself a game against the Sixers. The third-year forward finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block while shooting 11-for-16 from the floor and 5-for-7 from long range. Productive play like this has been a trend of late from Porter Jr. Over his last 20 games, Porter Jr. has averaged 19 points and 8.8 rebounds per performance while shooting 57 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep.
Porter Jr. is developing into a legitimate third option for the Nuggets, which will be big come postseason play, as Jokic and Murray can't do all of the heavy lifting. The addition of Aaron Gordon should help in that regard too. Though he had a relatively quiet night against the Sixers and finished with just six points and four rebounds in 25 minutes of action.
3. Sixers lose sole control of East's top seed with loss
Things are very tight in the standings at the top of the Eastern Conference. So tight in fact, that with the loss to the Nuggets on Tuesday night -- their second straight loss after falling to the Clippers in L.A. on Saturday night -- Philadelphia lost sole control of first place in the East. Through 47 games, the Sixers and Brooklyn Nets are now tied record-wise at 32-15. The race between those two teams down the stretch of the season will be an extremely interesting one to watch, as both teams obviously want homecourt advantage throughout the conference playoffs. In the battle for positioning, every game really starts to matter at this point in the season.
4. Doc Rivers has a solid sense of humor, even after a loss
Anyone that has listened to a few Doc Rivers press conferences can pick up on the fact that he has a pretty solid sense of humor, even in defeat. When asked if he could pull any positives from the tough loss that the Sixers just suffered at the hands of the Nuggets, the response from Rivers drew chuckles from media members. "The clock finally expired," he said.
Doc Rivers on positives from tonight's game: "The clock finally expired."— Michael K-B (@therealmikekb) March 31, 2021
Well done, coach.