Joel Embiid talked about changing the culture surrounding the 76ers. What he did Sunday night could be a step in that direction.
The rookie power forward/center finished with a career-high 33 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, two steals, and three turnovers in a 108-107 victory over the Brooklyn Nets at the Wells Fargo Center.
"I felt for the first time, all over, he really wanted to dominate the game," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "He really wanted to win the game. He really wanted to be the anchor to everything we were doing."
Embiid's performance helped the Sixers (7-20) snap an eight-game home losing streak. It also allowed them to take the poor taste associated with Friday's blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers out of their mouths.
That loss combined with being hammered by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 17, also on national television, helped continue a negative national perception of the Sixers. Embiid admitted to being "mad" about that. So he set out to change the perception and a team's losing culture.
On Sunday, he became the franchise's first rookie to collect at least 33 points and 10 rebounds in a game since Hall of Famer Hal Greer had 45 points and 11 rebounds for the Syracuse Nationals on Feb. 14, 1959.
"I thought my teammates were finding me, and then I was getting into the flow of the offense," said Embiid, who shot 12 for 17 from the field, including making 2 of 3 three-pointers. "I wasn't forcing anything. I was just playing basketball."
Embiid was paired with Jahlil Okafor in the starting lineup for the third consecutive game. This was the best pairing of the three. The duo played 11 minutes together during which the two teams were tied in scoring.
The two big men played together for the first 5 minutes, 27 seconds of the game and then again for the first 5:33 of the third quarter. For the rest of the game, they rotated in and out at the center position.
Okafor scored three points (all free throws) on a rough shooting night. He missed all 10 of his shots from the field. He did finish with 11 rebounds - six offensive - and blocked a shot. He and Embiid held Brook Lopez to three points after intermission. The Nets center finished with 22 points for the game.
"Jahlil Okafor, to play defense the way that he defended and rebound the way he rebounded when he wasn't scoring is a significant step," Brown said. "Jahlil and many young scorers get motivated to play the whole game when they score.
"He was having a down night, and I thought he was fantastic."
Ersan Ilyasova added 22 points while making a team-high four three-pointers in a reserve role.
The Sixers took a 108-104 lead on Ilyasova's two foul shots with 4.6 seconds remaining. But Jeremy Lin hit a three-pointer to close the gap to one point with 2.5 seconds left. After an errant pass by Gerald Henderson, the Nets (7-19) had a chance to score the go-ahead basket but couldn't get their hands on the ball before time expired.
Brooklyn extended two losing streaks. The Nets lost their ninth consecutive road game. It was also their ninth straight loss to an Eastern Conference opponent.
Brooklyn second-year forward and Chester product Rondae Hollis-Jefferson finished with seven points. His teammate and former Delaware 87ers standout guard Sean Kilpatrick also had seven.
Sixers reserve Nik Staukas was sidelined with left knee soreness. And center Nerlens Noel did not play. Brown said before that he would no longer be in the rotation for the foreseeable future.