PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Late in the game, 76ers fans chanted, ”We Want Fultz!”
Markelle Fultz tossed his hoodie, adjusted his shorts and checked back in the game.
”Fultz! Fultz! Fultz!”
The Sixers and their fans wanted the No. 1 pick to play and – after five often-confusing months – they got him.
Fultz scored 10 points and had eight assists in his first game since October, helping the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Denver Nuggets 123-104 on Monday night.
The first selection of the 2017 draft shot an airball, had three shots blocked and artfully attacked the lane, flashing glimpses of what has made him both a mystery project and prominent prospect.
With Philadelphia having clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2012, Fultz decided the time was right to return from an injured shoulder and busted confidence that had cost him all but four games of his rookie season.
Fultz sparked the 76ers at times in a reserve role.
”It was his decision,” coach Brett Brown said. ”It’s been fluid. I get goosebumps telling you all that. I’m so proud of him. The people around him have done great things. I give that kid credit.”
The 19-year-old Fultz played the 76ers’ first four games of the season before he was ruled out indefinitely in October with soreness and a scapular muscle imbalance in the shoulder.
The Sixers aren’t sure what they’ll get out of Fultz as they push toward 50 wins.
”That is a great unknown,” team president Bryan Colangelo said. ”I’m not sure I have the answer. We will have to … certainly not judge tonight as the sole case of what to expect going forward.”
Fultz checked in to a standing ovation with 2:54 left in the first quarter and drove down the baseline for a quick basket. But Fultz – whose awkward shooting form made him a punchline in the NBA – fired an airball later in the quarter.
Perhaps trying to force his shot too much, Fultz also had two shots blocked on the same possession. He was a pedestrian 1 for 4 with three assists in the first half.
Fultz scored two baskets in the third quarter, missed a spin move in the lane and had another shot blocked.
But Fultz was cheered each time he touched the ball and they went wild when he sank two jumpers late in the game. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Washington just may have a significant impact after all in the postseason.
”I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of nervous energy, adrenaline flowing tonight,” Colangelo said before the game. ”You see him bouncing around the locker room earlier, he’s excited and I think we’re all excited to have him back. Again, let’s not judge him based on tonight. This is step one in a long career.”
Joel Embiid had 20 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons had 11 assists for the Sixers.
Will Barton led Denver with 25 points.
Embiid had perhaps his dunk of the season on a one-handed jam over Paul Millsap. Embiid raised the roof in celebration as the crowd roared and the replay was still on the big screen when the Sixers got the ball back and JJ Redick buried a 3.
Nuggets: Denver scored only 15 points in the third and blew an eight-point halftime lead. … Jamal Murray had 17 points and Millsap 16.
Sixers: Waived G James Young. Young averaged 2.8 points in six games. … Simmons topped Allen Iverson to set the team rookie record for assists.
Denver plays Tuesday at Toronto.
The Sixers host the Knicks on Wednesday.
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