Gallinari’s 24 Points Lead Nuggets to 106-98 Victory

Behind 24 points from Danilo Gallinari, the Denver Nuggets pulled away late for a 106-98 victory, handing the Sixers their 7th consecutive defeat.

Dario Saric finished the night with | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Dario Saric finished the night with 17 points and 8 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough as the Sixers fell to the Denver Nuggets 106-98.| Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There are few “must win” games for a rebuilding team like the 76ers, but there are certainly some “boy would it be nice to have this” games.

Riding a six game losing streak, against a beatable opponent, at the Wells Fargo Center, before embarking on their first three-game road trip of the season, Monday night’s game certainly qualified as such.

The matchup with the Denver Nuggets, who themselves had lost five of their past six games, presented the perfect opportunity. The young Nuggets suffer from many of the same afflictions that tend to doom Brett Brown’s team, providing the Sixers with the chance to win battles, such as turnovers, that they’re not accustomed to winning.

In the first half that appeared to be playing out exactly in that manner, with the Sixers holding a decided advantage in turnovers (just 5 turnovers to 10 for the Nuggets), seemingly on the cusp of winning a facet of the game they’ve won just once on the young season.

Instead the Sixers floundered that opportunity by coughing the ball up 14 times in the second half in one of their sloppier displays of the season.

“This is a team we felt, even without Jahlil (Okafor), even without Robert Covington, that we could win. We leave feeling like we let one go by,” head coach Brett Brown said after the 106-98 loss. “It’s just hard to find a way to win with that volume of turnovers.”

The Sixers were without their starting point guard (Jerryd Bayless, sore wrist), starting small forward (Robert Covington, sprained knee), starting power forward (Ben Simmons, fractured foot), while also missing top draft picks Nerlens Noel (recovering from surgery) and Jahlil Okafor (gastroenteritis).

Brown’s team controlled the game for much of the first half, building up a 10-point lead with 3:27 left in the second quarter. But the Nuggets finished the half on an 11-3 run, setting up a close game for much of the second half.

The Nuggets didn’t take their first lead of the night until there was 3:55 left in the third quarter, taking a 64-63 lead on a pair of Danilo Gallinari free throws. Gallinari ended the night with a game-high 24 points, which included making 11-of-12 from the free-throw line.

The game remained a back-and-forth affair until the Nuggets used an 11-0 run to pull away. The run, which began late in the 3rd quarter and extended to the beginning of the 4th, saw the Sixers shoot 0-4 from the field and commit 5 turnovers in the process.

“I think it’s a part of our DNA in general. I think that with the young guys…at times we get this abundance of turnovers,” Brown said after the game. “I give Denver credit, they made some shots. Wilson Chandler made some shots. We see how good that young kid’s going to be with Jamal Murray. But I think the turnovers are too hard to recover from.”

When the Sixers are competitive it’s usually the result of Joel Embiid lifting them to a new level, on both ends of the court. Embiid struggled in this one, shooting just 2-11 from the field through the first three quarters of play.

“I felt that we’ve been used to seeing (Embiid) have superhuman nights, and I thought Joel was down tonight,” Brown said after the game. “He was trying to rush things.

“It’s just part of a young man’s growth. It happens,” Brown continued. “I don’t think we need to read too deeply into it. I think in many ways to expect, from time to time, not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”

Embiid and the Sixers did make a late run, scoring 10 points in the final two minutes of play, led by 7 from Embiid. The Nuggets seemed to have an answer each time, however, with the most crucial coming on a Will Barton 26-foot three-point shot with 49 seconds remaining that pushed the lead back up to 7. Barton finished the game with 22 points on 9-17 shooting from the field.

The Sixers will now take their 7 game losing streak on the road, where they’ll play their next three games away from the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers are 0-6 on the road so far this season and haven’t won away from Philadelphia since January 20th, 2016.

Quick Thoughts

* This was easily Joel Embiid‘s worst game of the season, and you could see the frustration in his body language. He scored the Sixers first 4 points of the game, but picked up his second foul with 8:50 left in the second quarter and sat for the rest of the half, accumulating just 9:21 of playing time before intermission. He never seemed to regain any sense of rhythm in the second half, going 0-5 from the floor and committing 2 turnovers in a third quarter which was perhaps the worst stretch of basketball Embiid’s played in his young career.

* After the game Embiid said that Richaun Holmes was playing well and deserved that playing time to end the half. Holmes scored 4 points during that stretch, and the Sixers were outscored by 6 in that time.

* Embiid did pick up 7 points late in the fourth quarter, allowing him to reach double figures in scoring. Embiid has now reached double figures in all 14 games of his NBA career.

* Embiid finished with just 3 turnovers on the game, but they were killers, all live ball turnovers leading to transition opportunities for the Nuggets.

* While Embiid struggled offensively he still contributed with another strong defensive performance. He finished with 5 blocks on the game, switched out onto perimeter players regularly, and rotated when needed. And for as frustrated as Embiid looked at times offensively, his effort was still there defensively.

* Fellow rookie Dario Saric tried to pick up the slack, with a combination of nifty passing, perimeter shooting, and sheer hustle. Saric finished with 17 points on 6-12 shooting, making 3 of his 6 three-point attempts, while also chipping in with 8 rebounds. He gave Brown a much-needed boost off the bench.

* Ersan Ilyasova played one of his stronger games in a while, with 17 points on 7-15 shooting, two made three-pointers, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Sergio Rodriguez (17 points, 7 assists) and Gerald Henderson (14 points, 4-9 shooting) also gave strong performances from a starting lineup which was +8 in their 11 minutes of play, despite Stauskas (1-7) struggling so much.

* Saric made a slick behind the back pass to T.J. McConnell on the perimeter, who returned the favor with a touch pass back to Saric for a wide-open three-point attempt to tie the score at 70 with 1:55 remaining in the third quarter. The Nuggets then scored the next 11 points to build up their largest lead of the game.

* The Sixers also got a big lift from Richaun Holmes, who will be seeing increased minutes over the next two games with Okafor out tonight, and both Embiid and Okafor out tomorrow against Memphis. Holmes finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots in 18 minutes off the bench.

* The rest of Brown’s shorthanded bench struggled. T.J. McConnell finished with just 1 field goal attempt in his 15 minutes of play, Hollis Thompson finished 0-3 on the night, and while Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot gave Brown some defense and energy, he’s not ready to contribute in a meaningful way offensively.

* Nik Stauskas continues his streaky play, extending his struggles of late. Stauskas came into the game making just 3 of his 17 field goal attempts in the previous two contests, and shot just 1-7 in this one. He also chipped in with 3 turnovers on the night.

* The Nuggets gave the Sixers a boost early by committing 9 first quarter turnovers, allowing the Sixers to build a 27-18 first quarter lead despite shooting just 33% from the field. The Sixers returned the favor with 14 second half turnovers. On the night the Nuggets finished with 21 fast break points compared to just 7 for the Sixers.

* Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets with 24 points on 5-12 shooting, including 11-12 from the free-throw line. He was joined by Will Barton (22 points) and Jamal Murray (22 points in 23 minutes), bouncing back from a tough stretch where he averaged just 5 points in his previous 4 games.

* The Sixers tried to make a run late, scoring 8 points in the final 1:44 of the game to make it interesting. They couldn’t string together any series of stops at the end, though, and never got closer than 4.

* After shooting just 2-8 from three-point range in the first quarter, the Nuggets shot 8-18 (44.4 percent) from three over the final three quarters of play. Part of that was on broken plays, but much of that was poor transition defense (brought on by frequent turnovers) and missed defensive rotations. The Nuggets scored 88 points on 58 field goal attempts in the final three quarters of play.

* The Sixers will be extremely shorthanded tomorrow, with all of Embiid, Okafor, Noel, Simmons, Bayless, and Covington unavailable for various reasons. That’s Brown’s starting point guard, small forward, power forward, and center, and a total of four top-6 picks in the draft.

The Sixers will take on Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow night at FedEx Forum in Memphis.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.