NEW ORLEANS — The 76ers came to the Big Easy and got a game that was closer than expected.
But their 111-110 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night was just half the story.
Reserve center Boban Marjanovic hurt his right knee on a defensive play with a little over a minute left in the game. His leg twisted as he was tangled up with Pelicans reserve forward Cheick Diallo while the two scrambled for the ball in the paint.
Marjanovic was in noticeable pain after falling to the court. He even banged on the hardwood. The Serbian had to be helped to the locker room.
Marjanovic declined to comment after receiving treatment.
He left the locker room on crutches and will undergo testing — most likely an MRI — on Tuesday.
“I’m praying that he’ll be all right,” said Tobias Harris, who is Marjanovic’s best friend on the team. “He took a hard fall there. But I think he will be all right.”
The Sixers (39-22) were lucky to escape New Orleans with the one-point victory.
They had a commanding 17-point lead in the third quarter. But didn’t seal the victory until Jimmy Butler partially blocked E’Twaun Moore’s attempt at a game-winning three-pointer with four seconds left. Harris grabbed the rebound and held onto the ball until time expired.
“Our transition defense wasn’t good at all," Harris, who was concerned with how the Sixers closed out the game, said, “and we’re gifting them transition opportunities with turnovers and uncontested shots. I think a combination of those hurt us the most there.”
But they were still able to escape with a win in a game they controlled for most of the night.
But just by the tone of the locker room and coach Brett Brown’s postgame comments, the outcome of the contest was secondary.
“Where my head is mostly at at the moment is Boban,” Brown said. “I’m just really concerned about him more than anything.”
Brown said he didn’t have any information on the injury.
“But when you see something like that, your heart sinks,” he said. "He’s good people, and he’s helping us. He really was a significant contributor and piece to our program.
“We will keep our fingers crossed.”
The Sixers acquired Marjanovic, Harris, and Mike Scott from the Los Angeles Clippers before the Feb. 7 deadline. Marjanovic is expected to provide quality minutes as the backup center to Joel Embiid.
Harris had his highest-scoring game since being acquired in the trade. The power forward had 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and three assists. However, he attempted only one shot in the fourth quarter.
Ben Simmons added 14 points and 12 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double and 34th of the season. JJ Redick (16 points), Butler (11 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), and reserves Mike Scott (12) and Marjanovic (12 points, 10 rebounds) were the Sixers’ other double-digit scorers
Former Sixer Jrue Holiday had 22 points, while Anthony Davis had 18 points and three blocks in just 20 minutes, 51 seconds. Julius Randle added 19 points and 14 rebounds. Jahlil Okafor, another former Sixer, had six points.
The Sixers pulled one game behind the third-place Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference with 21 games remaining.
Jonah Bolden got the start over Marjanovic at center for the Sixers.
This marked the rookie’s fourth start of the season and first since Jan. 26 at the Denver Nuggets. He got the nod because he matched up better than Marjanovic against Davis, the Pelicans’ All-Star center.
Embiid missed his third and what was expected to be his final game because of tendinitis in his left knee. The Sixers’ All-Star center will be reevaluated and could return Thursday for the much-anticipated game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
Afterward, the Sixers will have two competitive home games — Saturday against the Golden State Warriors and Tuesday against the Orlando Magic.
While the Sixers are looking to live up to lofty expectations, the Pelicans have had a circus-like atmosphere because their best player, Davis, desperately wants out of the Big Easy.
Monday marked his fifth game back since his agent, Rich Paul, informed the team last month that Davis would not sign a contract extension. He will become a free agent after next season.
He and his agent had hoped that he would have been traded before the Feb. 7 deadline. The Los Angeles Lakers were reportedly his preferred destination. The Lakers made an aggressive push to acquire him, but New Orleans general manager Dell Demps resisted the overtures.
The team was unsure whether to play him. The Pelicans also wiped his image from their pregame hype video. But New Orleans decided to play him in limited minutes after the NBA insisted he could not be shut down if healthy.
Demps left it up to coach Alvin Gentry to be the face of the franchise and address the circus-type atmosphere. One could argue that Demps’ decision to lie low and play a player who ultimately will be moved led to the circus. Team owner Gayle Benson reportedly reached her breaking point and fired Demps after Davis suffered a minor shoulder injury on Feb. 14 and left the arena before the final buzzer.
It appears that Davis’ relationship with the team is beyond repair. There’s also a sense that the team is playing better without him. They won the last two games that he didn’t play, highlighted by a 14-point victory over the Lakers on Saturday.
However, they lost three of the last four games he played in before Monday. Their lone win during that time came on the night he suffered the shoulder injury and left the arena.
Davis was booed during pregame introductions, when he touched the ball, and when he reentered the game after going to the bench Monday.
Marjanovic displayed the things he can do with his 7-foot-10 wingspan in the first half.
The 7-foot-3, 290-pounder dunked on one play while barely leaving the floor in the first quarter. Then in the second quarter he scored on a layup off a turnover without even jumping.