The evening started with a mixture of boos during the pregame introductions but got progressively better for Joel Embiid.
By the end of the 76ers’ 110-103 win on Tuesday over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, it was back to old times for Embiid. He was waving his arms to the crowd, exhorting more cheers after a shoving altercation with Marcus Morris with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left.
Embiid had 26 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one turnover and a blocked shot in 28:10 as the Sixers improved to 34-21, including 25-2 at home.
By game’s end those pregame boos were long forgotten.
“They went at me, I went back at them,” Embiid said of the fans. “We are human beings. If I can take it, then everybody else can take it too. We move on.”
Maybe when the Sixers return from the all-star break on Feb. 20 against the Brooklyn Nets at the Wells Fargo Center, it will be all about basketball and the extracurricular stuff will be a thing of the past.
One never truly knows when it comes to the Sixers’ three-time all-star center.
Embiid’s battle with the fans began when he shushed them after making a three-pointer that put the game away in Sunday’s 118-111 home win over Chicago. He had been upset about fans booing the team in Friday’s 119-107 win over Memphis and then against Chicago. Then he appeared to tell the crowd to “Shut the [expletive] up,” while going back on defense.
That livened up the talk shows in the area on Monday and then an Instagram post that evening kept the flame burning when former Sixer and current Miami Heat all-star Jimmy Butler, posted: "I know a place where villains are welcome,” referring to Embiid, who replied "Damn right my brother.”
Back to basketball, Embiid got in early foul trouble against the Clippers, picking up his second with 7:16 left in the first quarter, so he didn’t play as much as anticipated.
Still, he did plenty of damage. Despite hitting two threes, he was most effective down low, either scoring or going to the foul line 13 times. Four of his eight field goals were from four feet and in, and the other non-threes were from 9 and 12 feet.
As for the pregame boos, he said it was expected.
“A little bit, but that is cool,” he said. “Tonight I could have shushed them again, but it was all about having fun, getting back to myself.”
Embiid has stated frequently during this season that he wasn’t having as much fun as in the past. He made a vow at the beginning of the season to cut out the theatrics on the court, which meant no more playing to the crowd.
Now he made another vow — to do the opposite.
“As I said last game, I am back to doing what I want, saying what I want,” Embiid said. “That is how I used to be and I was dominating that way. This year I made a decision to change and I guess it hasn’t been (a success). You go with the good and bad. If it helps us win, helps the team in a better way to win games, then I am going to do that.”
Forgotten in all the off-the-court thunder he created was how well Embiid jelled with Ben Simmons, who had a triple-double with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
“When we all add up Ben Simmons’ and Joel’s stat line, add up the points, add up the rebounds, add up the assists, it is arguably the best those two have paired up with since I have been the coach here,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
How the two all-stars Embiid and Simmons jell will be much more important than how fans react to any future social media post.
Before heading for Sunday’s All-Star Game in Chicago, Embiid threw a bouquet toward the fans.