PHILADELPHIA — When the Nets faced the 76ers two days before Thanksgiving, they lost to a decimated team. On Wednesday, in the rematch — the first time the Nets’ Ben Simmons faced former teammate Joel Embiid — the effort was far, far better, but the end result the same.
Playing their seventh straight game without Kevin Durant, the shorthanded Nets lost a 137-133 heartbreaker before a venomous crowd at Wells Fargo Center, who booed Simmons’ every touch.
The fans probably would’ve booed his every breath if they could, such is the city’s hatred of Simmons, who requested a trade last season amid a deteriorating relationship with Embiid and got traded to the Nets for James Harden.
Embiid, who returned to the lineup Wednesday after he sat out Saturday with foot soreness, was largely 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 because of Embiid. They lost because their sloppiness dug a hole too deep to climb out of.
The Nets trailed by 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 hump, and gave an 8-2 run right back.
A Kyrie Irving bucket cut the Sixers’ lead to 133-131 with 45 seconds left, but Harden followed with a finger roll to essentially ice it.
It was a much better effort than the Nets’ Nov. 22 loss at 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 get them to react to you,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “If you let [the bigger guy] dictate what’s going on, then it’s not going to fair pretty well.
“Whether that is changing the things we do throughout the course of the night or making them think a little bit on who he’s going to guard, what his position is going to be defensively, we’ll throw some things defensively at him that we’re dictating, not reacting.”
On Wednesday, the Nets lost the lead during a 7-0 second-quarter Sixers run and never got it back. They were outscored 10-2 off turnovers in the quarter.
Seth Curry, who arrived with Simmons in the Harden deal, led the Nets with 32 points on 7-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) fell to 2-5 since losing Durant to a sprained right MCL on Jan. 8. The team announced Tuesday he won’t be reevaluated for two weeks.
Maxey had 27 points and Embiid scored 26 on subpar six-for-18 shooting for the Sixers (31-16). Harden finished with 23 points — eight in the fourth quarter — and seven assists.
The Nets led 43-41 moments into the second quarter when Irving found T.J. Warren for a short fadeaway. But they surrendered seven unanswered points, capped by Maxey’s step-back 3-pointer that 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 reeled off the next eight points unanswered, part of an extended 18-4 run.
A Curry pull-up got them within 120-117, and after a Harden travel, Curry knotted it on a 3-pointer with 4:06 to play. But they never pulled ahead.
Harden hit a 3-pointer of his own to untie it, sparking a mini 8-2 spurt that proved too much to overcome.