DENVER – This one came out of nowhere, kind of like those big snowstorms that the forecasters just didn’t see coming.
The 76ers had trudged through three quarters against the road-weary Denver Nuggets and trailed by five, scoring a measly 66 points in the first 36 minutes of play.
The sloppy play had been expected as the Sixers had only one practice since Thursday’s loss in Boston and were playing their fourth of eight straight road games, with another awaiting them tonight.
Then suddenly, somehow, they gained momentum and instead of just riding the game harmlessly out to sea, they blanketed the Nuggets with a fourth-quarter scoring storm that produced an improbable, 95-89 win.
During the fourth-quarter blizzard, the Sixers used a 24-4 run at one point, erasing an 82-70 Nuggets lead and turning it into an 94-86 advantage. They also held Denver without a field goal for 8 minutes and 17 seconds.
Maybe the Sixers just perfectly executed a plan of staying close for three quarters before pouncing in the final. After all, the Nuggets have now been outscored by 122-80 over their past four games in the final quarter. And they were also hindered by star Carmelo Anthony missing his third straight game due to the death of his sister last Tuesday.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Sixers, as they improved to 12-18. The Nuggets fell to 16-13, lost for the seventh time in 10 games and are 12-3 at their Pepsi Center.
“No,” Elton Brand said when asked if he thought the win was possible in the fourth quarter. “We got down 10 and coach put me back in and I was just trying to make something happen. It felt like it was one of those nights we would leave disappointed. But guys stepped up, made big shots, hit free throws down the stretch and we made the plays we needed to make.”
No one more so than Brand, who finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds, which is a season-high.
“Needless to say, great win,” said coach Doug Collins. “We were down 82-70 with eight minutes to go and went on a 24-4 run. Once again, our defense gave us a chance.”
It had to because the offense barely did.
“We win this game shooting under 40 percent from the floor (39.6), 3-of-13 from three and missing 12 free throws," Collins said.
But all that was erased due to the final 12 minutes.
After two free throws by Chauncey Billups (24 points) gave the Nuggets the 82-70 lead, the Sixers got offensive contributions from just about everyone to finish out the game. They also made 12 of their 14 foul shots in the final quarter after making just 8-of-18 up to that point.
Jrue Holiday paced the Sixers with 22 points, while Thaddeus Young came off the bench for 20. Jodie Meeks had his most productive offensive output in a while, scoring 17, including a big three-pointer with 47.1 seconds left. Andre Iguodala, though suffering through a 3-of-12 night from the floor and 3-of-10 from the free throw line, blanketed Billups in the fourth quarter.
“We got great production,” Collins said. “Thad really saved us in the first half, I though he gave us a real lift. Elton 17 rebounds, 16 points. I though Jrue was terrific in the second half, Jodie hit some big shots. We saved Dre [Iguodala] to put on Chauncey late in the game. Starting the [West Coast part of the] trip with a win is a great, great feeling, especially having a couple of days off coming in here.”
Now there is no rest for the weary, or the lucky, as the Sixers will face Golden State tonight as the grueling trip continues.
But last night was a night when the unexpected came. When the normalcy of a disappointing loss was replaced by the thrills of a win. Kind of like a cold winter night being interrupted by a foot of snow.
“It’s a game we would have lost earlier in the year,” Collins said. “I look at this trip as an opportunity to show that we have grown. If you look at us, you wouldn’t consider us individually to be a great defensive team. But we just kept chipping away and chipping away and pretty soon you looked up…”
And the win was there in Denver. Much like the snow is there in Philadelphia. Both unexpected.
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