PHILADELPHIA – When the Nets faced the 76ers two days before Thanksgiving, they lost to a decimated team. On Wednesday, in the rematch — the first time the Nets’ Ben Simmons faced former teammate Joel Embiid — the effort was much, much better, but the end result was the same.
Playing their seventh straight game without Kevin Durant, the shorthanded Nets lost a 137–133 heartthrob in front of a toxic crowd at Wells Fargo Center, who chased Simmons’ every touch.
The fans probably would have booed him every breath if they could, such is the city’s hatred of Simmons, who asked for a trade last season amid a deteriorating relationship with Embiid and was traded to the Nets for James Harden .
Embiid, who returned to the lineup on Wednesday after sitting out with sore feet on Saturday, was largely outplayed by Nic Claxton, who had a career-high 25 points on 11-for-12 shooting while adding 11 rebounds and two blocks. But the Nets didn’t lose because of Embiid. They lost because their carelessness dug a hole too deep to climb out.
The Nets trailed 17 in the third quarter and still trailed 116-102 in the fourth before an 18-4 blitz tied the score. But they couldn’t get over the bump and immediately returned an 8-2 run.
A Kyrie Irving bucket cut the Sixers’ lead to 133-131 with 45 seconds left, but Harden followed with a finger roll to essentially freeze it.
It was a much better effort than the Nets’ November 22 loss at Wells Fargo Center, when the Sixers played without Embiid, Harden, and Tyrese Maxey.
“When [Embiid plays], I think we have to dictate. You have to create some form of havoc and get them to respond to you,” said Nets coach Jacque Vaughn. “If you are late [the bigger guy] dictating what’s going on, then things don’t go quite right.
“Whether that changes the things we do over the course of the night or makes them think a little bit about who he’s going to guard, what his position will be defensively, we’ll defensively throw some things at him that we’re dismissive, not responsive.”
On Wednesday, the Nets lost the lead on a 7-0 Sixers run in the second quarter and never regained it. They were outscored 10-2 on revenue in the quarter.
Seth Curry, who arrived with Simmons in the Harden deal, led the Nets with 32 points on 7-for-10 shooting from behind the arc. Irving added 30 points and 10 assists, while Simmons started horribly but finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
The Nets (29-18) fell to 2-5 since Durant lost to a sprained right MCL on January 8. The team announced on Tuesday that he will not be reassessed for the next two weeks.
Maxey had 27 points and Embiid scored 26 on subpar six-for-18 shooting for the Sixers (31-16). Harden finished with 23 points – eight in the fourth quarter – and seven assists.
The Nets led 43-41 moments into the second quarter when Irving found TJ Warren for a brief fadeaway. But they gave up seven unanswered runs capped by Maxey’s step-back 3-pointer that made it 48-43.
They trailed 10 at intermission and the deficit widened to 94-77 after an Embiid and one midway through the third quarter.
It was still 116-102 on a Maxey bucket with 8:59 left in the game, but the Nets rolled away the next eight points unanswered, part of an extended 18-4 run.
A Curry pull-up brought them within 120-117, and after a Harden travel, Curry tied it to a 3-pointer with 4:06 left to play. But they never progressed.
Harden himself hit a 3-pointer to dislodge him, leading to a mini 8-2 sprint that proved too much to overcome.