On Thursday, the NBA announced the starters for the 2023 All-Star game in Utah, and 76ers center Joel Embiid, who leads the NBA in points per game(33.4), was not one of them.
On Saturday against the reigning two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic and the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets(34-16), he showed everybody why that was a mistake.
Embiid scored a game-high 47 points(18/31 FG, 4/7 3-PT FG), 12 of which came in fourth, and grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds as the 76ers(32-16) overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat the Nuggets 126-119 at Wells Fargo Center.
Philadelphia has won seven straight and is 20-4 in their last 24 games.
According to the five-time All-Star, he’s not motivated by the All-Star snub; he’s motivated to win.
“I’m used to it,” he said. “It’s not the first time. I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try win the whole thing. I guess that’s the only way I’m probably going to get that respect. I think that we’ve got a pretty good chance. You play the best team in the west down 15 points or something like that. To come back and be able to win that game, it gives us a lot of confidence. If we can clean up a lot of areas defensively, I think we could be even better. It’s good to see. We’ve got a chance to win. We’ve got to keep winning. The key is to stay healthy.”
Tobias Harris, who scored all 14 points in the second half, said Embiid, who had 28 second-half points, got his groove in the second half.
“He [Joel Embiid] was dominant,” Harris said. “I thought once the second half came, he was really able to settle down and be in the zone of the game. Just understand to get us all going out there to get in a flow to make the game easier for him. For him to just continue to pick his spots. I thought he did a great job of that in the second half as well.”
Jokic had 16 points at halftime but scored only eight points in the second half. Philadelphia decided to switch P.J. Tucker onto Jokic in that half, and according to 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, that was the difference in the game.
“I watched the Miami [Heat] game from a year ago, and I thought Tuck [P.J. Tucker] did a really good job on him [Nikola Jokic],” Rivers said. “We just felt like at halftime; we weren’t up into him. He was catching it where he wanted to catch it. And he’s such a focal point of their offense that if Tuck can get up under him and make him catch it above the three-point line, now those handoffs that go under, they don’t matter anymore. In the first half, he caught everything on the elbows and down low. I thought Tuck, listen, Joel [Embiid] was phenomenal. He had 47 points, but we don’t win the game if P.J. Tucker doesn’t play. And the way he played in the second half was extraordinary.”
Philadelphia is getting healthy and playing at a high level right now. The 76ers are becoming the team that many thought they would be when the season started, which is scary for everybody in the Eastern Conference.
James Harden recorded 17 points and 13 assists, marking his 19th game this season with at least 15 points and 10 assists.
Georges Niang poured in 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc off the bench.