PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — The swirling buzz was a little different this time. It came with an underlying hint of trepidation. After all, the Houston Rockets entered Friday night’s nationally televised game against the Sixers with the third-best overall record in the NBA and feeling a little ornery lugging a two-game losing streak and having won once in their last four games.
In stunning contrast, the Sixers were winners in five of their last six.
But none of those six were in the class of the Rockets.
This was a far truer test than any the Sixers faced since their January resurrection.
And with 10:47 left to play Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers were right there, down 94-90, after eight-straight points from wunderkind Joel Embiid. About a minute later, that was it. Houston went on a mini six-point run and once again regained control of the game before winning, 123-118.
The difference is James Harden is a superstar and Embiid is a budding superstar. That bore out in Harden’s game-high 51 points on 16-for-28 shooting, and Embiid’s team-high 32, with 14 coming in the fourth quarter when Houston threatened numerous times to run away and hide. But here’s another interesting point: After Embiid exploded to score the Sixers’ first eight points in the fourth quarter, he went the remaining 10:48 without scoring another point from the field. The rest of his points came from the line.
With 3:46 left, the Sixers were still hanging around again, down 110-105. That’s when Harden, who seems like he can do anything he wants to do, when he wants to do it, scored 5-straight points, hitting a trey and following with a runner. Once again, the Sixers were looking up from a hole that they couldn’t climb out of, down 115-105 with 3:05 left.
The teams went into halftime knotted at 61-61. What kept the Sixers in it was Houston’s sloppy passing. The Sixers had 12 steals in the first half, and Houston turned the ball over 16 times over the first two quarters. The Sixers—and Embiid—began the game with an emphatic dunk, then Houston went on a 7-point tear.
The Sixers and Houston were tied five times in the first half, and there were four lead changes. Houston came into the game leading the NBA in three-point shooting, averaging 14.5 three-point shots a game on an average of 39.6 threes a game. Houston made 12 of 31 treys (38.7%, up from its usual 36.7%) for the game.