ATLANTA – The 76ers seem to be a team that can withstand most situations.
They overcame horrid shooting in their first two games of the season. Then, on Monday, they overcame Trae Young and the scrappy Atlanta Hawks to win 105-103 here at the State Farm Arena.
Joel Embiid hit a pair of foul shots with 5.3 seconds left to give the Sixers their two-point cushion. Vince Carter missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer, as Philly escaped with the victory.
“It was the same attitude and the same type of qualities that allowed us to claw back from a 13-point deficit in Detroit,” coach Brett Brown said. "We are just figuring each other out. But it was that ingredient that enabled us to not roll over and find a way to win on the road.
“It was a fantastic quality win.”
The Sixers are 3-0 for the first time since the 2013-14 season, Brett Brown’s first season. The victory also left them as the Eastern Conference’s only remaining undefeated team. The Hawks dropped to 2-1.
“It doesn’t matter,” Embiid said of the Sixers’ record. “We still got 79 games. So that’s a long way. Three-and-0, you know, we are very fortunate to be in this position. But we still got a lot of work to do, me especially.”
Embiid finished with 36 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and three steals after missing Saturday’s victory at the Detroit Pistons with a sprained right ankle. However, the two-time All-Star center doesn’t think he had a good game.
The 25-year-old pointed out his seven turnovers, which he called “way too many.”
“I got to work on that,” Embiid said. “I got to work on my passing. I’ve got to be more patient. I got to be better for my teammates. So better situations.”
However, this was a serious test of resolve for the Sixers, who finished the game with just 11 able bodies. In addition, two of their standouts, Tobias Harris and Al Horford, had off shooting night. And the Hawks got the benefit of a few non-calls in an extremely physical game.
Josh Richardson took a shot to the mouth while being called for a foul on a Trae Young three-point attempt early in the fourth quarter. Embiid was also hit in the lip during the game. Things were so bad, Ben Simmons had to regroup.
“There was a lot of emotion in this game, frustration,” Simmons said. "Me, myself, I got caught up in it a little bit in the first few minutes of the third, which I shouldn’t let affect my game.
“I definitely slowed down. But it is what it is. We got the win.”
Mike Scott was ejected after picking up a Flagrant 2 foul for driving a shoulder into Damian Jones on a breakaway with 1 minute, 36 seconds left in the first half. One could argue that the ejection call was a bit excessive. Scott didn’t use his hands, nor did Jones fall to the floor on the play. The players even shook hands before Scott headed to the locker room.
“I definitely thought it was a flagrant,” Scott said. “I thought they would probably give me a flagrant. But when they said flagrant 2, I was like, ‘Damn, for real?’”
He said the team will try to get the Flagrant 2 rescinded.
Late in the third quarter, Shake Milton hyper-extended his left knee on a spin move and didn’t return. The second-year reserve guard went to the locker room, where he was examined. He is scheduled to have an MRI on Tuesday.
“I feel pretty good,” Milton said in the locker room. “I’ll be all right.”
Harris and Horford made timely contributions late despite their struggles for most of the game.
Harris finished with 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including missing eight of nine three-pointers. Horford had four points on 1-for-4 shooting, but contributed nine rebounds and four blocks.
Horford made a pair of foul shots with 2 minutes left to give the Sixers a 101-100 lead. Then Harris hit a turnaround jumper that gave them a 103-100 lead with 42.1 seconds remaining. John Collins’ putback of a Young missed foul shot knotted the score at 103 with 7.4 seconds left.
The Sixers held Young to 25 points, his lowest scoring output of the season, and just 12 points after the first quarter. He also turned the ball over seven times. The second-year point guard scored 13 of his points in the first quarter on 4-for-7 shooting. He shot 3-for-13 the rest of the way. He failed to score in the third quarter on 0-for-4 shooting.
“They got a lot of guys on their team that are strictly just for defense,” Young said of the challenges the Sixers presented. "They’ve got a lot of guys who are long and athletic. They’ve got guys who play really hard.
“When you have a bunch of guys you can rotate in and not get tired, it’s tough. It’s something I’ve got to get better at [handling], and we play them again soon [on Jan. 30 in Atlanta.]"
Young was leading the NBA in scoring at 38.5 points heading into Monday’s game. He was also tied for sixth in assists at 9.0 per game. For his effort, Young was named the Eastern Conference player of the week. Following the game, he dropped to second in scoring at 34.0.
But Embiid lived up to recognized as arguably the league’s best center.
The Sixers rode him in the second half.
“He was our crown jewel in a blatant way tonight,” Brown said. “We have talent, no doubt, but he emerged in significant ways throughout the game. I thought that he, and we, did a pretty good job of executing a play at the end of the game.”
The Sixers found ways to get him the ball straight up or on a high-low.
“Joel carried us tonight,” Brown said. “And we needed him tonight, particularly, offensively.”
The big man shot 6-for-12 in the last two quarters after going 6-for-7 in the first half. His 12 shot attempts were three more than Harris attempted. The small forward had the second most shot attempts by any player on both teams in the second half.
Nine of Embiid’s rebounds also came after intermission.
He also took over the game with the Sixers down 98-92 with 4 minutes, 2 seconds left. That’s when he scored six straight points on a pair of foul shots, a cutting dunk and a turnaround hook to pull his team within one point (99-98) with 3:09 left.
Then he put the Sixers up for good with his foul shots in the closing seconds.
“That is just something that I worked on all summer,” Embiid said of taking over the fourth quarter. "You have to have the body for that and be able to get into position, especially in the fourth quarter.
“Somebody had to step up, and I felt like that was me.”