On Saturday afternoon, Joel Embiid was not in any way inferior.
At the Wells Fargo Center, the MVP runner-up the previous two seasons put on an outstanding effort to lead the Sixers to a 126-119 victory over the Nuggets. The group has won seven consecutive games and is at 32-16.
Embiid had a stat line of 47 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.
For Denver, who finished at 34-16, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic scored 24 points on 8 of 12 shooting, nine assists, and eight rebounds.
On Monday and Wednesday, the Sixers’ last two home games versus the Magic will take place. Following are thoughts on Embiid’s outstanding performance and the Sixers’ victory against Denver:
Star huge dudes tuned in right away
Early in the game on Saturday, one of the most obvious elements was, very literally, off the floor. The Wells Fargo Center’s shot clocks above the baskets were broken, thus the teams had to depend on a clock placed in the corner of the baseline floor.
Embiid was performing flawlessly. On the Sixers’ first possession, he convinced Jokic to commit to his pump fake before making a and-one basket. After going 6-for-18 in Wednesday’s victory against the Nets, Embiid started the game off for the Sixers with six points and started the game 4 for 4 from the field.
Oddly, Embiid started out 0 for 3 at the line. Following two games when he went 20 for 20, he came into the contest with an overall season percentage of 86.1. Michael Porter Jr. sank the second of his three first-quarter three-pointers after two missed free throws by Joel Embiid. Once Jokic had a better understanding of Embiid’s timing, he twice stripped him of the ball as he ascended to shoot mid-range jumpers.
When Embiid and Jokic combine their own styles, it’s intriguing to watch. Both are competent, astute big guys and terrific mid-range shooters, but they approach their jobs in different ways. On a basketball court, Jokic effectively plays the water polo sport. Every player he shares the court with is made to feel like a serious danger by his easy ability to lob smooth and deceptive passes. The large guy from Serbia rules the game in a way that seems unhurried, and he punishes mistakes harshly. Jokic took advantage of James Harden’s lack of focus by connecting with Bruce Brown on a backdoor cut for a basket late in the first.
With six minutes remaining in the first quarter on Saturday, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers departed from Embiid’s usual rotations. Unsurprisingly, during Montrezl Harrell’s first stint of around two and a half minutes, the Jokic-led Nuggets outscored the Sixers by five points.
Upon his comeback, Embiid made two three-pointers from the top of the key to at least prevent the Nuggets from gaining total control of the game. Jokic did not take a break throughout the first quarter, yet Denver still led by nine points.
Sixers’ defensive issues continue in the first half.
Early in the second quarter, when Embiid faced Zeke Nnaji, the Sixers made a heartening dent in Denver’s advantage.
After a straightforward Embiid assist on a Tyrese Maxey three-pointer only 17 seconds into the second session, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone sought a timeout, but the Sixers kept pouring in points. With the aid of tip-ins from Embiid, Matisse Thybulle, and Shake Milton as well as their offensive rebounds, the Sixers were able to cut their deficit to just two points.
The Jokic versus. Harrell minutes, though, were shaky once again. Maxey’s consecutive missed free throw attempts also hurt. After going 35 for 36 against Brooklyn, the Sixers had the best free throw percentage in the NBA (83.1%) but only managed 4 for 10 in the first half. Jokic hit an open three-pointer and then beat Harrell with a turnaround jumper. With remarkable ease, he approached the contest.
When Embiid returned to the lineup, the Sixers’ defence was much worse. Aaron Gordon jumped to score after Jamal Murray floated a ball in transition ahead of the defenders. In the last 2:13 of the second quarter, Denver’s point guard scored seven points, including a wide-open three-pointer made possible by a lapse in communication by the Sixers. Late in the first half, Harden added five more points, but the Sixers were unable to outscore their awful defence. Tobias Harris and P.J. Tucker, their starting forwards, managed only zero points in the first half on five combined field goal tries.
The Nuggets (slimly) outscored the Nets in the game on Wednesday with 73 first-half points on 65.9 percent shooting.
MVP-caliber To begin the third quarter, Rivers placed Tucker on Jokic in the Embiid afternoon. Given the Sixers’ desire to sabotage the Nuggets’ offensive rhythm and overall ease, the adjustment seemed logical. Tucker always accepts star assignments and made an effort to defend Jokic with his customary on-ball tight, tough defence.
In the third quarter, Malone received a technical foul for allegedly claiming that Tucker’s shoulder bumps on Jokic should have been called fouls. A minute later, Tucker received his fourth foul for tussling with Jokic while off the ball. He expressed his dislike of the call to the umpires and was whistled for his own technical. Throughout a timeout, Rivers also received a technical.
Before that, the Sixers had a strong start to the second half on both ends. Embiid made a few jump shots because Jokic sometimes seemed hesitant to be too aggressive on his receptions at the nail and assist Embiid earn fouls. The Sixers reduced their lead to 77-73 on an Embiid lay-in after a pick-and-roll with Harden as a result of his teammates’ improved performance.
The Nuggets restored the intended sequence when Malone called a timeout. Denver’s advantage increased back to 15 points thanks to Bruce Brown’s three against a Sixers zone possession.
The Sixers provided the prompt reaction that was required. The Nuggets looked shaky once again after Georges Niang nailed back-to-back three-pointers and Embiid scored a and-one layup. It was also clear that Embiid was focused and determined not to lose such a significant game. On Denver’s last third-quarter possession, he intercepted a pass intended for Jokic, drew contact from second-year guard Bones Hyland, and earned himself three free throws. Before hitting his free throws to lead the Sixers a 12-0 run to finish the third, Embiid yelled and pump his fist. Early in the fourth, a strong Maxey runner reduced the team’s deficit to one point.
Two Hyland free throws caused the Sixers to lose momentum for a short period, as they fell down 106-98. However, Niang quickly released a crucial three-pointer to beat the shot clock after a sideline out-of-bounds play. The game was then knotted at 106 each as Harris came off the bench to make a driving lefty layup and a corner three-pointer.
Embiid then switched into “Actually, I’m the MVP” mindset. Against Jokic, he was unstoppable in isolation, nailing back-to-back mid-range jumpers and launching a three from the left wing. Embiid threw it away, and during Denver’s timeout, the home crowd did indeed yell “MVP.”
Both Tucker and Harris contributed significantly on defence in the closing stages. Tucker’s strong post defence resulted in a turnover, while Harris’ sneak attack at the top of the key resulted in a steal of Jokic. In addition, Harris hit a corner three on a deft assist from Embiid. The single point Tucker would score came at the ideal moment, when the Nuggets had just narrowed the Sixers’ advantage to 120-117 when Tucker tipped in a Harden miss.
Naturally, Embiid was the one who had to declare victory. His fourth three of the day gave the Sixers an eight-point lead and was a fitting end to an MVP-caliber performance.