Joel Embiid Lifts Sixers To First Win Of Season
The Philadelphia 76ers picked up their first win of the 2016-17 season with a dramatic 109-105 overtime victory over the visiting Indiana Pacers Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
It didn’t need to be that dramatic. It really didn’t.
The Sixers held a 100-95 lead after TJ McConnell made one-of-two free throws with 25 seconds remaining before coughing up yet another late game lead.
Monta Ellis scored an and-one just three seconds after McConnell’s free throws, making the free throw to pull the Pacers to within 2.
Still, up two with the shotclock unplugged all the Sixers had to do was successfully inbound the ball, forcing the Pacers to foul to stop the clock. Yet something so simple can feel like mission impossible at times for the Sixers.
After Embiid flashed out to the three-point line, point guard Sergio Rodriguez dove to the rim and the Sixers attempted a risky pass in traffic, with Rodriguez eventually losing the ball Jeff Teague. With the Pacers down two with the ball, Gerald Henderson then inexplicably fouled Paul George with 2.8 seconds remaining. It appeared as if Henderson thought the Sixers had a foul to give. They didn’t, and the non-shooting foul sent George to the line to tie the game.
Embiid then missed a turnaround jump shot as time expired, sending the game to overtime.
Embiid, on a 24-minute playing time restriction, ended regulation with over 23 minutes of playing time in the books. When the Sixers’ rookie center didn’t take the court at the start of the overtime period it seemed as if his night was over.
Embiid thought it was.
“I thought it was up,” Embiid said after the game, referring to his playing time. “I was kind of yelling at them to let me play and crying a little bit.”
Embiid said that jokingly, but he got back out on the court. Sixers head coach Brett Brown brought Embiid back into the game with 1:57 remaining in overtime and the Sixers up 1. “I had to check with my lawyer,” Brown joked after the game about going over Embiid’s minutes restriction.
Embiid proved to be huge for the Sixers down the stretch, scoring 5 points in the final two minutes of play, including a huge and-1 over Lavoy Allen to give the Sixers the lead, then followed that up with two free throws with 8 seconds remaining to seal the win, sending the announced crowd of 17,643 to their feet.
“The group is very tight, the group is together, it puts in work, and we believe, genuinely, that good days will add up,” head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “The room feels great about themselves. I am very happy for them.”
Embiid struggled out of the gate, committing 2 personal fouls and 2 turnovers in the first 2+ minutes of play. He never found an offensive rhythm for most of the game, settling for tough shots, commanding the ball nearly every trip down the court, and turning the ball over in the process. He finished the night shooting just 6-18 from the field with 5 turnovers.
Yet Embiid was able to remain relatively efficient by getting to the free-throw line 14 times, making 12 of them. He is now shooting 79.2 percent from the free-throw line on the season and finished the game with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Embiid was joined by Ersan Ilyasova (14 points, 11 rebounds in 24 minutes), Nik Stauskas (14 points, 5-7 shooting, 23 minutes), Gerald Henderson (12 points, one inexplicable foul), and Robert Covington (10 points, just 3-13 shooting) in double figures. Richaun Holmes also chipped in with 8 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes of action.
Paul George led the way for the Pacers, finishing with a game-high 26 points on 9-20 shooting. George also chipped in 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in a losing effort, with 19 of his 26 points coming in the second half and overtime.
The Sixers defense had been struggling for much of the fourth quarter, allowing the Pacers to shoot 52.6 percent from the field for 28 points in the final frame. Yet Brett Brown’s team clamped down when it needed to, as the Pacers shot just 2-10 from the field for their five overtime points.
“We really did a good job of making them take tough shots toward the end, and I thought Jo(el Embiid) brought us home with some individual brute strength and post play at the end,” Brown said. “We saw the best of Joel Embiid when it mattered most.”
Despite the early season success Brown sees even more progress Embiid can, and should, make in the coming season.
“We see it. His balance, his lift, his base. He’s just not even close to where he’s going to be,” Brown said about his star player. “He is as competitive as anybody that I’ve ever coached. He really wants to win, and he wants the responsibility to make that happen.
“So he wants the ball, he wants to go to the line. He doesn’t care if he hasn’t played in two and a half years, or this is his 6th NBA (game). He doesn’t care,” Brown continued. “I think something like that, with his personality complementing his talent is a wonderful package for our organization.”
Embiid agrees. He’s confident.
“As soon as I saw that they weren’t going to send a double team I just decided to attack the basket and got an and-1,” Embiid said about his play late in overtime to give the Sixers the lead. “I want to be the best player. And every time I step on the court I think I’m the best player.
“If the team needs me to do that kind of stuff, I think I still have a long way to go, but I can do those type of things,” Embiid said about closing out games.
The Sixers finished the night with 20 turnovers to just 24 assists, although they did limit the Pacers to just 2 second chance points.
The Sixers will take on the Atlanta Hawks tomorrow night, in Atlanta. The Hawks beat the Sixers by a score of 104-72 in the second game of the season at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers next home game will be next Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.