The 76ers overcame boos, rust, and the Brooklyn Nets.
They battled back from a 20-point deficit to beat the Nets, 112-104, in overtime Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center in the first game for both teams after the All-Star break.
The Sixers (35-21) hadn’t played since their 110-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 11. And they looked like a team that had eight days between games. Their timing appeared to be off. They shot poorly from three-point range and made a lot of miscues. They were also missing All-Star point guard Ben Simmons.
The sellout crowd voiced its displeasure, booing the Sixers frequently through the first three quarters.
Joel Embiid is a major reason the Sixers improved their league-best home record to 26-2. They also extended their winning streak to four games. (All of them at home.)
The three-time All-Star Game starter, who was playing with a cold, finished with a season-high 39 points to go with game highs of 16 rebounds and 2 blocks. He made 18 of 19 foul shots.
“I’m getting back to myself,” said Embiid. “So I’m telling my teammates, ‘Get me the ball.’ ... I want my teammates to know I’m going to be there.”
More than just being there, Embiid willed his team to win.
He willed them, “all over the place,” coach Brett Brown said. "Just like defensively, offensively give-me-the-ball stuff.
“I thought the thing that might not go as noticed, as I see it, is his screen setting.”
For his effort, Embiid was the postgame bell ringer.
“His competitiveness tonight was amazing,” Raul Neto said. "That’s what we expect from him. He can change the game when he plays with that energy. So I think he was great.
"Numbers were amazing, but just energy and [his refusal to] lose was more important than his points and anything else. "
Shake Milton’s three-point play put the Sixers up, 76-75, with 35 seconds left in the third quarter. It was their first lead since clinging to a 26-25 advantage with 10:27 left in the first half.
Embiid knotted the score at 101 with a pair of foul shots with 35.9 seconds to play in the game. Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie scored on the ensuing possession.
But on the next possession, he fouled Embiid while the big man posted him up. The Cameroonian hit a pair of foul shots to knot the score at 103 with 16.2 seconds left.
On the final possession of regulation, Embiid blocked Wilson Chandler’s layup attempt at the buzzer.
“If we’re going to go somewhere, I got be one of the guys,” Embiid said. “And it starts on defense, playing hard and running the floor.”
Brooklyn scored the first point of overtime before the Sixers closed out the game with a 9-0 run. Embiid’s foul shots with 41.6 seconds left gave Philly their eight-point margin of victory.
His stellar play was a continuation from his dominant play in Sunday’s All-Star Game in Chicago.
“In the All-Star Game just proving that I belong, I’m here, just being the best player in the world,” Embiid said. “I just intend to keep coming out every single night and just play hard and try to get wins, and go out and try to win a championship.”
Tobias Harris added 22 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists on Thursday, while Alec Burks had 19 points off the bench. Five of Burks’ points came in overtime.
Caris LeVert led the Nets (25-29) with 25 points. Dinwiddie added 22.
A big story line was who wasn’t on the court.
Simmons was sidelined with lower-back tightness. The Nets were without point guard Kyrie Irving.
Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks announced before the game that Irving would undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder and is done for the rest of the season. The six-time All-Star ended up playing only 20 games.
Last summer, the Nets signed him and Kevin Durant to four-year, $141 million contracts. Durant won’t play this season after suffering a right Achilles injury last June in the NBA Finals while with the Golden State Warriors.
Irving previously missed 26 games with a right shoulder impingement before returning Jan. 12 after getting a cortisone shot.
After he missed the final five games before the All-Star break with a knee sprain, it was determined that he wouldn’t play through the shoulder pain any longer. He felt surgery was the right course.
"I think we look at our players long-term health as the number one priority," Marks said. "Kyrie has been adamant like the rest of us that he would take one cortisone shot and see how it goes.
“We are looking at the big picture here. We are not looking at the next two-three months. We are looking at the next two-three years.”
The Sixers are looking to have Simmons healthy for their coming schedule. They have a tough road test on Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The two-time All-Star initially reported discomfort at practice Wednesday.
“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court and went and got treatment,” Brown said. "It played out like it played out.
“We don’t believe it’s anything that too significant.”
But Simmons still experienced discomfort Thursday morning. So he received more treatment at the practice facility.
It was the third game that the third-year veteran has missed this season. He missed the first two games with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. Simmons has also been dealing with lower-back tightness since the 2018-19 preseason.
Neto started in his place. He was joined in the starting lineup by Glen Robinson III, Harris, Embiid, and Josh Richardson. Al Horford came off the bench for the second straight game.
The Sixers had a 22-6 advantage in the first quarter. But that turned into a 50-30 deficit with 3 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the half. For Brooklyn, it was a 44-8 run.
As expected, the sellout crowd let them know about it with loud boos.
The Sixers responded with a 9-0 run before Levert buried a jumper for the Nets. Embiid responded with a three-pointer on the ensuing possession. The Nets took a 52-42 lead into intermission.
Philly made just 4 of 22 three-pointers, 18.2%. Burks was 2-for-4, while Embiid went 1-for-1. The rest of the team finished 1-for-17.