Joel Embiid looked pretty healthy for a guy whose status was in question. The 76ers center put on a show, and his teammates followed his lead.
The rookie center finished with a career-high 26 points in 20 minutes to lead the Sixers to a 120-105 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers (3-10) have won two of their last three games after going 1-9. They opened the season with seven consecutive losses. They also extended their winning streak over the Suns (4-10) to three games.
Embiid was the major reason. He also had seven rebounds, two blocks, two assists, and three turnovers.
With his parents sitting courtside, Embiid scored on his first three shots - a layup followed by 24-foot and 26-foot three-pointers to give the Sixers an 8-5 lead with 10 minutes, 9 seconds left in the quarter. Then after a layup by Ersan Ilyasova, Embiid scored on an alley-oop dunk from Sergio Rodriguez. That gave him 10 of the Sixers' first 12 points.
The 7-foot-2, 276-pounder went on to add a pair of foul shots and a three-pointer on his way to shooting 6 of 8 in the quarter - including going 3 for 4 on three-pointers.
He was motivated by not being able to change the perception of the Sixers as a struggling franchise in Thursday's nationally televised blowout loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"That's just probably one of the main reasons I came out [on fire] in the first quarter," he said. "I just wanted to dominate."
Embiid was even motivated by the criticism he received on Twitter and Instagram from the rare times he defended the more mobile Karl-Anthony Towns on Thursday. He didn't think the criticism was justified because Towns never guarded him.
"That made me mad," Embiid said. "And that's food for me. I like that. I like competition. I want to fight. I want to win. So tonight I think it helped me a little bit."
All this came on a day on which Embiid was listed as questionable to play with a sprained left ankle.
Embiid suffered the injury in the first quarter of Thursday. He went to the bench momentarily before returning to play.
He participated in Saturday's shootaround and put in extra work afterward. However, Embiid wasn't cleared to play until 20 minutes before the game.
"It was still a little bit sore," Embiid said of his ankle. "But I told them, it felt great. I'm glad I did and we got a win."
The Sixers tied the franchise record with 17 three-pointers. They also shot 52.3 percent from the field on a night when Nik Stauskas added 21 points off the bench. The guard made 8 of 9 shots, including 5 of 6 three-pointers.
T.J. McConnell drew a lot of praise for his defensive effort. The reserve point guard had three steals in 19 minutes, 25 seconds of action while harassing the Phoenix ball handlers. He also finished with five points.
"It just shows that you can impact the game without even scoring," Suns coach Earl Watson said. "He was 2 for 6 from the field, so it wasn't his offense. His defense came in. He disrupted our offense. That gave them that gap and that cushion moving into the second quarter.
"McConnell took us out of our offense. His defensive pressure disrupted everything."
Robert Covington had another off night. He scored three points on 1-for-5 shooting before leaving the game with a left side bruise in the third quarter. The small forward shot 4 for 31 over his last four games.
"I thought about it a lot and I'm not going do it," coach Brett Brown said of benching Covington. "I'm going to back the fact that shooters shoot and his time is not far away.
"And that he is playing good defense, and he does know what we are doing."
Covington finished with two blocks, two steals, five rebounds, and three turnovers. He was booed on occasion.
Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe finished with a game-high 27 points.