PHILADELPHIA — When the Nets played the 76ers two days before Thanksgiving, they lost to a decimated team. In Wednesday’s rematch — the Nets’ first time Ben Simmons faced former teammate Joel Embiid — the effort was much better, but the end result is the same.
Playing their seventh straight game without Kevin Durant, the shorthanded Nets lost a heartbreaker 137-133 to a venomous crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, who booed Simmons’ every touch.
Fans probably would have booed his every breath if they could, such is the town’s hatred for Simmons, who requested a trade last season amid a souring relationship with Embiid and was traded to the Nets against James Harden.
Embiid, who returned to the lineup Wednesday after sitting out Saturday with foot pain, was heavily outplayed by Nic Claxton, who had a career-high 25 points on 11-for-12 shooting, while adding 11 rebounds and two blocks. But the Nets didn’t lose to Embiid. They lost because their negligence dug a hole too deep to get out of.
The Nets trailed 17 in the third quarter and were still down 116-102 in the fourth, before an 18-4 blitz tied the score. But they couldn’t get over the bump and gave it an 8-2 run straight away.
A bucket from Kyrie Irving cut the Sixers lead to 133-131 with 45 seconds left, but Harden followed with a finger roll to essentially ice him.
It was a far better effort than the Nets’ loss Nov. 22 at the Wells Fargo Center, when the Sixers played without Embiid, Harden and Tyrese Maxey.
“When [Embiid plays], I think we have to dictate. You have to create some form of havoc and make them react to you,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “If you let [the bigger guy] dictate what happens, then it won’t go very well.
“Whether it changes the things we do throughout the night or they think a little bit about who he’s going to guard, what his defensive stance will be, we’ll throw defensive things at him that we’re dictating, not reacting to.
On Wednesday, the Nets lost the lead in a 7-0 run from the Sixers in the second quarter and never got it back. They were outscored 10-2 on turnovers in the quarter.
Seth Curry, who arrived with Simmons as part of the Harden deal, led the Nets with 32 of 7 points for 10 shooting from behind the arc. Irving added 30 points and 10 assists, while Simmons started horribly but finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
The Nets (29-18) have fallen to 2-5 since losing Durant to an MCL right sprain on Jan. 8. The team announced on Tuesday that he would not be reevaluated for two weeks.
Maxey had 27 points and Embiid scored 26 on a six-for-18 undershot for the Sixers (31-16). Harden finished with 23 points — eight in the fourth quarter — and seven assists.
The Nets led 43-41 moments in the second quarter when Irving found TJ Warren for a short fade. But they gave up seven points unanswered, capped off by Maxey’s 3-point pullback which made it 48-43.
They trailed by 10 at intermission and the deficit swelled to 94-77 after an Embiid and one midway through the third quarter.
It was still 116-102 after a Maxey bucket with 8:59 left in the game, but the Nets clinched the next eight points unanswered, part of a long 18-4 run.
A pull-up from Curry took them down to 120-117, and after a trip from Harden, Curry tied it on a 3-pointer with 4:06 left. But they never took the lead.
Harden hit his own 3-pointer to untie it, sparking an 8-2 mini push that proved too much to overcome.