‘Seven Sixers’ lose to Denver Nuggets as COVID protocol benches starters

Audrey Becker, Staff writer

On January 9, three days after an exciting win against the Washington Wizards, the Philadelphia 76ers received word that go-to scorer Seth Curry tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the safety protocols the league has in place, Curry, during that Washington game, played 36 total minutes, having numerous chances to interact with players both on and off the court. After contact tracing the team, just seven Sixers were eligible to play the nationally televised game against Nikola Jokic’s Nuggets on Jan. 9. The minimum number of players an NBA team must have available at the start of a game – anything less is a forfeit – is eight. Instead of postponing the game, though, the league forced the injured Mike Scott to dress in his uniform and be the Sixers’ “eighth player.” 

The Sixers were missing all but one member of their starting lineup, and left with nothing but rookies coming off the bench. Notable losses included Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Shake Milton. The Philadelphia “Seven Sixers,” as this roster was referred to on some social media outlets, were Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Dakota Mathias, Dwight Howard, Tony Bradley, Paul Reed, and Isaiah Joe. This team, composed of four rookies and a few veterans, was supposed to compete against the full strength Denver Nuggets.

The first half of the game was surprisingly competitive, the Sixers even leading at points, but it was clear that this energy level was not sustainable for a full, 48-minute, basketball game. The final score differential was just 12 points, which, under the circumstances, was an impressive showing for the mostly rookie squad. Sixers’ golden boy (and first round draft pick) Tyrese Maxey, flashed his true potential playing 44 of the 48 minutes, and scoring 39 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Maxey after the game. “We didn’t win and that’s always the ultimate goal. That’s what I went out there to try to do and I try to have my team do whatever it takes to try to win the basketball game. We fell short, but like I said, It’s bittersweet, it’s cool.”

Once the dust around the Sixers-Nuggets game had settled, basketball fans shifted their focus to a different matchup: The Boston Celtics vs. the Miami Heat. Both Boston and Miami, experiencing numerous COVID-related setbacks, were missing almost half their roster, although it appeared each could field eight eligible players. It seems as though the league would keep it fair and make the shorthanded teams play, as they did with the Sixers, but Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, made the opposite happen: the Boston-Miami game was postponed because it was determined one team did not have the sufficient amount of available players – no game was played, and no forfeit was imposed. Subsequent Celtics games, and a number of other games featuring COVID-19 stricken teams, were postponed, while the seven-manned Sixers played on.

“We really only had seven guys, and the number is eight. You know, we don’t understand why we played that game. But listen, I’m just a coach. I’m going to show up and do what they tell me to do, for the most part,” said Head Coach Doc Rivers in a post-game press conference.

Additionally, Joel Embiid chimed in after a crucial win against the aforementioned Miami heat team, against whom Embiid returned to the court.

“It just seems like every other game keeps getting canceled. But us, I guess the league just keeps making us play. There’s really no other explanation behind it, especially that Denver game, when we had to dress an injured player just to make sure we had enough players to be able to compete — while other teams that haven’t had that many players and the league hasn’t made any of them dress an injured player, just to make sure there’s a game going on,” said The Process when asked if he thought his team should have played with seven eligible players.