– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
PHILADELPHIA — In what might have been the biggest game the Philadelphia 76ers played to date this season, it was fitting that their biggest piece to what they hope will turn into a championship puzzle was back just in time for the occasion.
After missing the team’s first eight games after the All-Star Break, Sixers center Joel Embiid came back to the lineup and, at least with his stat line, announced himself fit for the stretch run, scoring 33 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in just 27 minutes as Philadelphia defeated the Indiana Pacers 106-89 at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday afternoon.
“He is a difference maker in all ways, shapes and forms,” said 76ers head coach Brett Brown. “The first thing you talk about is stuff at the rim, that’s what I felt the most pain when we didn’t have him, was just the rim protection.”
In Embiid’s eight-game absence, Philadelphia went just 4-4 and were coming off a 16-point defeat in Houston on Friday night. Against another contender in Indiana, Embiid impacted the game when it counted the most, hitting all six of his field goal attempts and six of his seven free throws in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points as Philadelphia outscored the Pacers 34-19 after entering the final stanza with a 72-70 lead.
“I was talking about being rusty and as the game kept going, I just kept getting better, getting to the line a lot too,” Embiid said. “The game started slowing down for me, but my focus was really defensively, just by the way we’ve been playing and the way we were playing, so I felt like I had to — I don’t think I had a blocked shot today, but just being all over the place helping my teammates. I’m glad we got the win.”
Tobias Harris had 16 points and eight rebounds while Ben Simmons went for 15 points and six assists as the Sixers tied the Pacers for third place in the Eastern Conference, with the win giving them the season series over Indiana, 3-1, and the tiebreaker that goes with it in case the teams finished tied at the end of the regular season.
“We’re on the clock and I think that the sense of urgency and awareness of what we are getting close to, having to perform at the level that we have to perform at is real for these players,” Brown said. “I can feel that there’s an excitement having Joel back and Boban [Marjanovic] is not that far away, and it’s getting close to April, whatever it’s going to be and I can feel it more than I can see it. I thought our guys responded well tonight as a starting point.”