DENVER – The last time the 76ers won a game without Joel Embiid seems like a long time ago.
Back then, the Sixers played with a togetherness, a spirit and a bounce in the Nov. 7 seven-point road win over the Utah Jazz
They got all that back Saturday night in their latest game without their franchise player, defeating the the Denver Nuggets, 107-102, at the Pepsi Center.
The win improved the Sixers to 16-19. It was their second win in three games and after losing their previous five. The Sixers also improved to 2-7 in games without Embiid, snapping their six-game skid when he doesn’t play.
The Sixers got this victory by doing something they don’t normally do: Hold on to a lead.
Riding Jerryd Bayless, the Sixers built a 91-80 cushion with 10 minutes, 54 seconds remaining. The Nuggets (19-17) pulled within 103-98 with 2:56 remaining. The teams played through a scoreless stretch for the next 1:55 before Nikola Jokic’s foul shots with 1:01 left made it a three-point game (103-100).
The Sixers went up 105-100 on Robert Covington’s pair of foul shots with 19.5 seconds left. After a pair of foul shots by Denver’s Jamal Murray with 11.6 seconds, Covington’s breakaway dunk with 4.2 seconds left clinched the victory.
“They made their little run, but we responded right back,” Covington said. “Instead of us panicking or getting frantic or us getting outside of ourselves, we kept doing what got us the lead. That’s what really stood out about this win tonight.”
However, Bayless was the hero. The reserve guard scored all 14 of his points during a key stretch from midway through the third quarter to early in the fourth.
Bayless scored his first basket on an alley-oop dunk that pulled the Sixers within 76-75 with 2 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the third. He went on to score 12 of his team’s next 16 points to give it a 91-80 cushion with 10:54 remaining.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Bayless said of being a zone. “I guess it was the right opportunity at the right time.”
The 10th-year veteran had missed his lone shot attempt in 4:01 of action in the first quarter. He didn’t leave the bench in the second quarter. However, Bayless re-entered the game with the Sixers down, 69-58, with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
He took over the game a little over five minutes later.
Bayless ended up shooting 6-for-10 from the field – including going 2 of 3 on three-pointers. He was asked if he’s ever had a stretch like he had late in third quarter through early in the fourth.
“Ten years,” he jokingly said after giving the reporter a crazy look. “Ten years, playing.
“Nah, but it’s a good stretch. My teammates they really helped. Brett made some calls for me. So it worked out.”
Dario Saric led the Sixers with 20 points to go with nine rebounds. Covington added 15 points, a team-high 10 rebounds and two steals. JJ Redick finished with 18 points, while Ben Simmons had six points, six assists, six rebounds, one block and five turnovers.
Embiid sat out Saturday’s matchup because he still not cleared to play on consecutive nights. He and sidelined rookie guard Markelle Fultz flew to Phoenix on Saturday from Portland, where the Sixers played on Thursday. Embiid is scheduled to play Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena,
He rested Saturday night as opposed to Sunday for “health” reasons.
“When you play a game and you have a chance to have a day or multiple days in between that can better allow him to play, whatever game it’s going to play out to be, then that’s the answer,” Brown said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Murray had 31 points for Denver. The Nuggets shot 11-for-49 in the second half.