Joel Embiid was thrilled to be back with the 76ers.
The four-time All-Star center made his long-awaited return Saturday after missing nine games following a positive COVID-19 test.
“That jawn hit me hard,” Embiid said of his bout with COVID. “I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. It was that bad. So I’m just thankful to be sitting here.”
The Sixers (10-10) are also thankful to have Embiid back, as the center is a welcome addition for a team that lost seven of nine without him. One day after being unsure if he’d even play, Embiid was a bright spot in the 121-120 double-overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Wells Fargo Center. He finished with a season-high 42 points to go with 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal in 45 minutes, 26 seconds.
However, he was disappointed that he committed four turnovers and missed five of his 21 free-throw attempts. One of those missed foul shots came with the Sixers down, 100-99, with a minute remaining in regulation. Embiid also had a pair of turnovers in the final 57 seconds of the first overtime.
“I didn’t think I was going to play tonight,” Embiid said. “To me, it’s a miracle I played this many minutes, but it’s good. Tonight is on me. I turned the ball over too much and missed a couple free throws.”
Embiid’s surprising performance came only one day after he struggled to go up and down the court three times during Friday night’s workout. And he was sluggish at the start of the game, scoring 10 points while shooting 2-for-7 in the first half.
Embiid improved as the game progressed, scoring seven points on 3-for-3 shooting in the third quarter. Then after adding 12 in the fourth quarter, he tallied 13 points in the overtime sessions. He ended up making 12 of 23 shots.
But Embiid, who is vaccinated, had to overcome a lot to get on the floor.
“I couldn’t breathe,” he said of his COVID-19 symptoms. “The headaches were worse than a migraine. And the whole body was just done. So it was not a good time.”
Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns, who got into a fight with Embiid during a game two seasons ago, said he was happy to have the Sixers center back on the floor. Towns lost eight family members to COVID-19, including his mother, Jacqueline.
“I told Embiid on the court as well, I am very happy that he’s come to the other side with COVID,” he said, “because we have had our thing for a while, but that’s bigger than basketball, that’s bigger than what we have. I’ve seen it kill people.”
Towns added that Embiid is a heck of a player no matter how the two felt about each other at times in the past.
“I am happy that the NBA has him back, because ... I want to play against the best of the best,” Towns said. “And he is one of the best, so it makes me have to play better and it gives me a challenge.”
Embiid’s next test will come Monday when the Sixers host the the Eastern Conference’s last-place Orlando Magic (4-17), who have lost six straight and nine of their last 10 games.
Shake Milton (groin) is listed as questionable. Meanwhile, Paul Reed (G League assignment), Jaden Springer (G League), and Ben Simmons (mentally not ready to play) are all out.