As Joel Embiid dished to Seth Curry with less than five minutes to play, the savvy Wells Fargo Center crowd immediately and collectively yelled, “Shoot!”
This is generally a wise choice for Curry, a career 50% shooter from the floor. But this particular basket finished off another Embiid milestone.
Embiid recorded his third-career triple-double Monday night, finishing with 31 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists to propel the 76ers to a comfortable 133-113 victory over the Houston Rockets.
“He was not gonna let us lose that game,” Sixers acting coach Dan Burke said of Embiid.
It was the Sixers’ second triple-double in the past week. Tobias Harris recorded the first of his career with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in last Tuesday’s victory at Toronto. It was Embiid’s first triple-double since he recorded 34 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists against Milwaukee on April 4, 2019.
It was also Philly’s fourth consecutive victory, a positive start to a January when the Sixers will play 10 of their 15 games at home and four consecutive opponents with losing records.
For a half, the Sixers again struggled against an undermanned and inferior opponent at home.
The Rockets entered Monday as losers of seven consecutive games (11 of their past 13.) And they did not have standouts Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr., who were both suspended for their behavior during Saturday’s loss in Houston against Denver. But the Rockets still hung around during the first 24 minutes by scoring 16 fast-break points and going 15 of 20 from the free-throw line.
Yet Philly created distance in the third quarter that they rode for the rest of the night. A Curry three-pointer put the Sixers up, 82-71, with less than eight minutes to play in the period. An Embiid baseline fadeaway increased that advantage to 89-76 with about five minutes remaining. And an Isaiah Joe three-pointer pushed the Sixers’ lead back to double digits, 101-90, in the quarter’s final minute.
That lead ballooned to as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter.
Monster performances are now becoming routine during this stretch for Embiid. Monday was his fourth consecutive 30-point game, tying his career high for such a streak.
Embiid, however, was not exactly enthralled by his own performance. He said his high assist total was partially the result of him being too passive early in the game. He was frustrated with his six turnovers. But he began to push the ball more in transition and took advantage of his matchup with the smaller Daniel Theis.
“I started to kind of change my approach,” Embiid said, “because I was really not aggressive enough.”
He had a double-double by halftime, with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He then opened the Sixers’ decisive third quarter with a three-pointer, before a jumper rattled home. He found Georges Niang in the corner for a three-pointer that gave the Sixers an 87-75 lead about midway through the period.
Embiid re-entered the game in the fourth with nine assists, then exited shortly after Curry’s basket completed the triple-double.
Embiid struggled to finish offensively early, missing three consecutive attempts at the rim and then failing to convert through contact on an and-1 in the first quarter. He found rhythm after that, getting around the defender with a Euro step for a emphatic one-handed dunk and then unleashing a crossover and pull-up jumper late in the period. He played the entire first quarter because “when [a player is] rolling like that you just gotta go with it,” Burke said.
Philly naturally turned to Embiid when Houston made its second-quarter push, including on a drive, spin and finish around Theis to give the Sixers a 60-55 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the half.
With starting point guard Tyrese Maxey and perimeter defensive ace Matisse Thybulle in health and safety protocols, multiple Sixers stepped into larger roles Monday.
Furkan Korkmaz slid into the starting lineup and was a well-rounded spark, finishing with 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting, 11 rebounds and six assists to record his first-career double-double.
He was an immediate offensive threat, making his first three three-pointers in the opening period. But Burke highlighted a second-half adjustment, when Korkmaz became the primary ballhandler and opened things up for Curry to play more off the ball while tag-teaming with Embiid.
In that third quarter, Korkmaz went 3-of-4 from the floor and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line, converting an and-1 finish early in the third quarter, hitting a jumper to put the Sixers up, 93-81, then drawing a foul in the open court. He totaled four rebounds and three assists in the fourth quarter.
“I told Furk I thought his body language changed when I said, ‘You [are] a point guard,’” Burke said. “He had a different stride. He had a glean in his eye and at the start of that third quarter. I thought it was a good look for us.”
Starting wing Danny Green, in his first game back from health and safety protocols, finished with six points in 23 minutes. He missed his first three-pointer from the left corner in the second quarter, then sprinted to the opposite side to bury a shot behind the arc off an Andre Drummond offensive rebound. He then hit another trey on the Sixers’ next possession.
Joe also totaled 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting off the bench, while Paul Reed (two points in six minutes) re-entered the first-half rotation.
“That’s what happens in these types of games,” Burke said. “When people are in or out, people get different opportunities, new opportunities, and you can find more about your team.”
Harris gets booed — and reacts
Tobias Harris raised his arms late in the first half to encourage the crowd — a crowd that was booing him.
He had just missed a three-pointer and runner near the basket on consecutive possessions, continuing a dreadful shooting stretch for the standout forward. Harris went 3 of 10 from the floor in the first half, then did not take a shot in the third period.
But he did catch some rhythm in the fourth. He finished a layup in the opening moments of the period, then secured an offensive rebound and put back to give the Sixers a 112-96 advantage with less then 9 minutes to play. He later grabbed another offensive board for a follow dunk.
Burke called Harris a model of professionalism since he’s been on the Sixers staff, but acknowledged they talked at halftime about that reaction to the fans. Burke also praised the six rebounds and six assists Harris collected in the game.
“The only thing that matters is who’s in that locker room,” Burke said. “Part of what we have to grow from, from my experience from last year, is our focus. Shut out that noise, and when we’re between those lines, it can’t be the officials. It can’t be the fans. It can’t be anything like that. ...
“He presses so hard on himself, and he’s got to understand Doc [Rivers] has so much confidence in him, and we all do. It was good. We pulled together. Joel was saying, ‘Call this play for Tobias. Call that play [for him].’ So I saw teammates lifting him up. And if we have that every night, no matter what’s going on, we’re gonna keep growing.”
Aside from a 7-of-13 effort at Boston on Dec. 20 and 10-of-16 performance against Washington on Dec. 26, Harris is shooting 31% (26 of 84) in the Sixers’ other five games since Dec. 13. He entered Monday shooting 45.2% from the floor, his worst percentage since 2017-18 and a significant dip from 51.2% mark from last season, and 29.6% from beyond the arc, his worst mark from there since 2013-14.