PHILADELPHIA — By the middle of the fourth quarter of tonight’s game, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, playing both ends of a back-to-back for only the second time this season, was nothing shy of dominant once more. He was unstoppable, no matter which end of the court he roamed on any given possession.
But, in just a split second after turning over the ball on an offensive possession, Embiid was lying on the floor in pain, the worst nightmare possibly coming to life for the up-and-coming franchise. As he limped toward the locker room, the Era of Good Feelings that has enveloped the city, fresh off the Eagles’ first-ever Super Bowl victory, started to slowly dissipate with every second he stayed out of the fans’ view.
It turned out to be a false alarm, however, and Embiid, after making his re-entrance to the court that fell just shy of matching Willis Reed’s dramatic emergence from the locker room for the New York Knicks before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals – maybe it was as dramatic as the opening theme to Charlie’s Angels – was able to see off another victory on home soil for the Sixers.
Embiid finished tonight’s game with 29 points, 16 rebounds and and three blocked shots as Philadelphia defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 112-98 at Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers’ seventh consecutive home win and ninth consecutive win when playing as the home team in Philadelphia. The last loss the Sixers encountered in a designated home game was their defeat to the Boston Celtics on Jan. 11 which took place in London.
Once up 16 points earlier in the game, Philadelphia’s lead was cut to six at 93-87 with just under eight minutes to go in the fourth when Embiid slipped on and fell onto the court while making an offensive move, then was slow in getting up from off the hardcourt. He only stayed in the locker room for about five minutes of real time, but it felt like an eternity to all invested in “The Process.”
Nothing to be worried about, says Embiid, even as the 20,000-plus in the arena held its collective breath.
“I just got tangled as I was reaching for the ball,” Embiid said. “Nothing happened, I feel great. I hit my knee on the floor, but it happens.”
Even with his dominance inside against another talented big man, Los Angeles’ DeAndre Jordan, tonight’s game was going to be tough for The Process regardless, given that he had played 23 minutes less than 24 hours earlier in last night’s win over New Orleans, a game in which he scored 24 points and had 16 rebounds. Along with an awkward step, fatigue also had to play a factor in Embiid’s scary moment.
“I was trying to reach for the ball and I was getting tired, especially in the fourth quarter, “Embiid said. “Back-to-back nights are tough, but that’s basketball.”
Fortunately for the Sixers, his teammates had Embiid’s back, especially point guard Ben Simmons and his backup at the point guard spot, T.J. McConnell. Simmons recorded his 21st double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 assists while McConnell, in just 26 minutes of action, had 17 points and eight assists while making six of his seven field goal attempts.
Furthermore, McConnell hit all three of his three-point attempts in the game.
“Every game, as you know, we have a bell ringer and [McConnell] rang the bell tonight,” said Sixers head coach Brett Brown. “You look at his 17 points, eight assists and not one turnover, he was effective as was our bench. We all have to give our bench some love tonight. I thought they really contributed and T.J. was sort of the leader of that group.”
McConnell’s performance from the bench even overshadowed the night from the man who is widely considered to be the best reserve in the league, the Clippers’ Lou Williams, who led the team with 23 points on 9-of-21 shooting. Danilo Gallinari added 22 points while Jordan, the subject of much trade rumors before the trade deadline passed on Thursday, had 10 points and 21 rebounds for Los Angeles.
Like the Sixers, the Clippers were also playing the second game of a back-to-back, and after their emotional win in Detroit over the Pistons in their first game against former Clipper Blake Griffin, Los Angeles could not sum up the same amount of energy in Philly in the second game of a seven-game road trip.
“I just thought they were fresher tonight,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. “They played last night, too, obviously they didn’t have to travel. It felt like every loose ball and 50/50 play, they got. On that last lay-up, it felt like we were standing and watching instead of playing them on defense.”
Philadelphia, which has not lost a game at the Wells Fargo Center since Dec. 21, will play their final two games before the All-Star Break at home, playing the New York Knicks on Monday before hosting the Miami Heat on Wednesday.