Tyrese Maxey, other rookies make most of coronavirus crisis as Sixers lose with seven players
A second defeat in three days was rather easier to take for the 76ers as their depleted roster went down fighting against the Nuggets.
Philadelphia fell to 7-3 for the season but could take great heart from its latest loss, perhaps at odds with Thursday’s defeat at the hands of a Nets team missing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
This time, it was the Sixers’ turn to go without their stars — Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid — while Seth Curry was absent after he tested positive for COVID-19 (Curry was told of his result during the Nets game).
Contact tracing left coach Doc Rivers with just eight players to choose from, though one of them — Mike Scott — did not play because of a knee issue.
The Nuggets’ 115-103 success came as no surprise, then, but the relatively narrow margin was just reward for a makeshift Philadelphia team. The Sixers led in the game as late as midway through the second quarter and never let Denver get away from them, even if the result scarcely seemed in doubt.
Gary Harris’ 21 points led the way for the Nuggets, while Nikola Jokic was just shy of another triple-double with 15 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
Three of the Sixers’ five 2020 draft picks were among the seven players involved, with Tyrese Maxey in particular rising to the occasion. He was given the responsibility to lead the team despite Rivers jokingly suggesting before the game that center Dwight Howard would play point guard.
Maxey, selected 21st in the first round out of Kentucky, had not previously started in the NBA and had averaged 6.9 points in 15.7 minutes over his first nine games. Remarkably, the 20-year-old put up a massive 39 points in 45 minutes, along with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Maxey not only outstripped his previous NBA high of 16 — against Brooklyn — but also his best performance in his single college season with Kentucky (27 points).
Since 1963-64, only Allen Iverson — on 11 occasions in 1996-97 — and Andrew Toney — once in 1980-81 — had previously scored 35 points or more in a game as a rookie for the franchise.
Second-round picks Isaiah Joe (13 points in 45 minutes) and Paul Reed (six in 26 off the bench) also enjoyed their unlikely opportunities, showing Philadelphia’s depth.
Rivers spoke before the game of the chaos leading up to the contest.
“The last 36 hours have been nuts, as you would expect,” he said.
“Being held up in New York, doing multiple tests, waiting for tests, contact tracing, then getting the list of guys being out, getting back to Philly at one in the morning, getting to your house and trying to think, not knowing if you’re playing or not.
“You’re on the phone with your coaches until four in the morning, still not knowing. We were just trying to create some kind of game plan.
“Then coming here, an hour ago we were told we were playing. We have eight active players, and one is one that’s been injured, in Mike Scott, and I can tell you now that there’s no way that I’m going to play him.
“So you can make a case we have seven bodies to throw out. We had a walkthrough that I wasn’t a part of because I was on a call with the league, so I have a list here that I’ve not even looked at.
“We’re going to throw them together and Dwight Howard’s going to play point guard tonight and we’re going to see how it goes.”
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