The pregame news on Ben Simmons, while incomplete, didn’t sound great. But once the 76ers took the court they played inspired basketball — for about the first 2 1/2 quarters.
Without Simmons, who is out with a lower-back injury and wasn’t with the team while receiving further treatment and evaluation, the Sixers rumbled them stumbled before finally finding their footing for a 129-112 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers are 27-2 at home.
They can thank Joel Embiid for this latest victory. He scored a career-high 49 points and was serenaded by “MVP” chants late in the game.
He shot 17-for-24 from the field, 1-for-3 from three-point range, and 14-for-15 from the foul line. Embiid also had 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals, one blocked shot, and four turnovers. He had a plus-19 rating.
“When he comes out with that activity, that energy, that mentality, he makes a statistician work and we will win a lot of games,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
Embiid’s previous career high was 46 points on Nov. 15, 2017, in a 115-109 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Since the Clippers game I have had a mind-set of just being aggressive, just trying to dominate offensively and defensively,” Embiid said, referring to a 110-103 win on Feb. 11.
He said that his career-high effort wasn’t his best game ever.
“My best game ever goes back to that Lakers game. It is going to take a lot to beat that,” he said. “I had 46 [points], 15 rebounds, seven assists, seven blocks, that was pretty good,” Embiid said.
“You know I got a bright future in front of me, I am going to keep on working hard and keep trying to get better every single day.”
The Sixers jumped to a 21-point lead late in the first quarter, but it evaporated when second-year All-Star Trae Young hit a leaning 26-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Hawks a 92-91 lead after three quarters.
The Sixers then flexed their muscles in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Hawks, 38-20.
Leading 105-100, the Sixers (36-22) went on a 10-2 run, culminating with an Al Horford layup with 4 minutes, 10 seconds left to finally put the Hawks away.
It was only the 17-42 Hawks. but Atlanta had been 9-9 in its previous 18 games and has been showing a pulse.
Atlanta has some exciting young players, but few of them are on the defensive end. The Hawks entered the game allowing 118.8 points, which was 29th in the 30-team NBA.
The Sixers took advantage of the Hawks’ generosity.
As for replacing Simmons for however long he is out, coach Brett Brown suggested before the game that it would be by committee.
Shake Milton started at the point, and when he was out Josh Richardson moved over from shooting guard to run the offense.
Joining Embiid in the starting frontcourt were Tobias Harris and Horford.
In the previous three games, Horford had come off the bench.
Harris suffered a right knee bruise during the 119-98 loss in Milwaukee on Saturday. The injury was so painful that Harris was listed Sunday as doubtful. That changed to questionable Monday afternoon then definite by the tipoff.
Harris had said that he wouldn’t play if he didn’t feel he could help the team, and that is indeed what he did, scoring 25 points.
“Anytime I get on the floor and am going up and down, there are no excuses, you are 100 percent, so that is kind of how I look at it,” Harris said. He added that he was probably 60 percent Sunday, 70 percent Monday morning, and 100 percent at game time.
The other problem was what to do with Young, who entered the game averaging an even 30 points.
Richardson started on him, but Milton and Matisse Thybulle took turns trying to wear down the 6-foot-1 dynamo.