Nikola Jokic, Bones Hyland stun 76ers to snap Nuggets’ two-game losing streak

PHILADELPHIA — DeMarcus Cousins smiled after going chest-to-chest with James Harden in the fourth quarter.

It was just the kind of audacity the Nuggets needed to swoop into Philadelphia and snatch a 114-110, MVP-caliber win.

Having dropped two in a row entering Monday, the Nuggets played focused, fearless basketball in the second half behind their leader, Nikola Jokic. Their precocious rookie, Bones Hyland, followed suit, as did veteran JaMychal Green.

“I know a lot of the hoopla around the game was about Nikola Jokic vs. Joel Embiid, and I understand why,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who said the environment felt like a playoff game. “For us, it was just important to get a win.”

While Jokic paced the Nuggets with another near-triple-double of 22 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists, Hyland caught fire in the fourth quarter. The rookie buried three 3-pointers in barely over a minute’s time, and then sunk another one with 1:51 remaining to demoralize the home crowd.

“He showed out,” said Malone.

Hyland trailed Jokic with 21 points, and veteran Will Barton registered 20 of his own.

Green’s hard foul on Embiid, later ruled a Flagrant 1, sent a physical message that Denver wasn’t going to allow any easy baskets in the fourth quarter. Denver outscored Philadelphia 33-22 in the final period.

Embiid finished with 34 points and nine rebounds, but the result was all that mattered. His counterpart, James Harden, added 24 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds.

With the feel-good win, the Nuggets will head to Washington for a Wednesday tilt vs. the Wizards.

By the start of the third quarter, Jokic had lulled the crowd to sleep. Led by his deft touch and transcendent vision, the Nuggets reeled off a 10-3 run to start the quarter and, momentarily, took the lead. But the Embiid-Harden combo overwhelmed the Nuggets as the quarter wore on. Embiid managed 13 points on Jokic, working him from the inside and out. His skill, as a big man, was one of the traits Jokic most admired about him.

As Jokic flirted with another triple-double, Harden did the same for the 76ers. By staggering Embiid and Harden, the Nuggets always had an elite scorer to worry about. The combo helped the Sixers to an 88-81 lead entering the fourth.

Despite the national TV audience and the surrounding MVP conversation, Malone was solely focused on snapping his team’s losing streak.

“I’m just trying to get a win,” Malone said before the game. “We’ve lost two games in a row. … I understand the excitement. You have two MVP candidates, rightfully so. We know about Nikola in Denver, but Joel is a helluva player. I understand that, but I don’t go to bed at night, ‘I can’t wait for Nikola and Joel to go at it.’ I’m just trying to figure out a way to help our group get back to winning.”

After a shaky, turnover-filled first quarter, the Nuggets settled down. What was once a 19-point deficit got trimmed to just 58-53 Philadelphia heading into halftime. Jokic ended the second quarter with a flurry of highlights, including two sublime passes to Barton and then Jeff Green. Both ended with emphatic dunks.

Jokic finished the first half with 13 points and four assists. Barton, one of the few Nuggets who found a rhythm on his jump shot, added 14.

They helped counter Embiid, who had 16 points in the first two frames. It was a manageable margin, considering the Nuggets shot just 21% from 3-point range and turned the ball over nine times in the first half.

The other boost came from Hyland, who showed no fear despite the rowdy environment. He found nine points over the first two quarters to pace the bench unit.

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