The 76ers are making things a little too interesting.
For the second straight night, they needed a late spark to defeat one of the league’s worst teams. This time, they ended with a 7-1 run to take a 120-116 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Just don’t tell Joel Embiid that the game wasn’t supposed to be this close. The Sixers defeated the Nets, 120-97, on Sunday at the Barclays Center and were expected to blow them out, again.
“There’s no teams in the NBA that you should blow out going into the game,” said Embiid, who celebrated his 24th birthday Friday. “This is the NBA. Every time you go out every night, anything can happen.”
Well, the Sixers (38-30) didn’t lose, thanks in large part to Robert Covington, who made perhaps his biggest shot of the season. His three-pointer with 35.9 seconds left gave the Sixers a 116-115 advantage.
“Every time I take a shot, I got the confidence for it,” said Covington, who recently got out of a shooting slump. “My teammates believe in me. The city is behind me and I just stepped up, still coming off the momentum from last night. So I stepped up a made a big shot.”
The Nets had a chance to take the lead on the ensuing possession, but after running time off the clock, Spencer Dinwiddie lost the ball after running into Embiid while driving to the basket with 20.8 seconds left.
T.J. McConnell hit a pair of foul shots with 19.1 seconds remaining to give the Sixers a three-point cushion (118-115).
Dinwiddie split a pair of foul shots with 5.8 seconds left. Embiid grabbed the rebound as Dinwiddie missed the second and was fouled by Quincy Acy. He sank both foul shots to give the Sixers a four-point cushion (120-116) with 5.2 seconds left, clinching the victory.
This came after they used a decisive 20-5 fourth-quarter run to defeat the New York Knicks on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
On Friday, Embiid didn’t have a great shooting performance. He made just 6-of-23 shots. However, the all-star center had a game-high 24 points, a career-high 19 rebounds, and two blocked shots.
“I actually think I had a bad game,” Embiid said. “But I felt like defensively, I was pretty solid. Rebounding the ball, when the shots are not falling, you have to do something else.
“So I felt like, focus more on the rebounding and just making my teammates better.”
This will definitely be a memorable night for the standout. Sixers fans chanted “Happy Birthday” while he attempted foul shots.
He said hearing that was amazing and something he loved.
“It shows you the support that the fans have for us in the city,” Embiid said. “And they show me a lot of support since I got here. So I really appreciate it.”
JJ Redick added 23 points, while Ben Simmons was two rebounds shy of recording his third consecutive triple-double. The point guard finished with 21 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals.
Reserve Justin Anderson had 11 points while making 3 of 5 three-pointers. Covington made 2 of 3 threes en route to 10 points. This came after he made 5 of 7 three-pointers while scoring 15 points against the Knicks on Thursday.
The Sixers also committed a season-low five turnovers on Friday. Their previous season-low was eight against the Nets on Jan. 31 at Barclays.
Chester native Rondae Hollis-Jefferson paced the Nets with 21 points to go with 10 rebounds and two steals. Former Sixer Jahlil Okafor had 10 points off the bench in his first game in Philadelphia since being traded to Brooklyn along with Nik Stauskas and a 2018 second-round pick for Trevor Booker on Dec. 7.
“Being here where my NBA career basically started, it feels good to be back and see some familiar faces,” Okafor said before the game.
This was a much-need victory for the Eastern Conference’s sixth-place Sixers. They pulled a half-game behind the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards. They’re also a game behind the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers with 14 remaining. The four highest seeds in each conference receive home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have to get every win we can right now,” Simmons said. “We want to get home-court advantage. So for us, we got to take care of business. No matter who we play.”
Brooklyn dropped to 21-48. It was the Nets’ third consecutive loss and seventh in eight games.
The Nets took a 102-101 lead on Quincy Acy’s three-pointer with 5 minutes, 41 seconds left. Redick responded by making five consecutive foul shots. His last three came after being fouled while attempting a three-pointer with 5:12 left.
Brooklyn closed the gap to two points (106-104) 17 seconds later on a jump shot by Hollis-Jefferson. Then the Nets led 115-113 on Caris LeVert’s dunk with 1:16 remaining.