Amidst rumors of fatigue, Joel Embiid scored 21 points as the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Brooklyn Nets 120-97 on the road Sunday night.
After back-to-back games in which Dwight Howard dropped 30 points and Hassan Whiteside added 26 points, Embiid appeared to be wearing down due to rest-related concerns. That wasn’t the case Sunday night, however, as the big man was efficient, shooting nine of 17 in 26 minutes, adding eight rebounds and three assists. 15 of those 21 points came in the first half. The 20-plus point outing was the 38th such night for Embiid this season, as the 76ers’ center continues his historic season. Only 17 NBA players have more games of such production this season.
Efficient could be coined as the term of the night for the entire 76ers’ team, as the unit got off to a fast start in the first quarter, dropping 37 points before the first break. Those 37 points came in bunches for the 76ers, as the starters jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead from the opening tip to just over three minutes into the game. Of Embiid’s 15 first half point, five came in this opening burst.
The Nets would cut the lead to nine with just under seven seconds to play in the first quarter, but the last three points of the first frame would come off the hands of J.J. Redick, who’s seemingly found his clutch stroke as the seconds tick away in quarters over the last few nights, from beyond the arc.
The offense picked up right where it left off to begin the second quarter of play, connecting on seven of its first ten attempted shots. Where the first quarter belonged to Joel Embiid, the second was dominated by the sharpshooting abilities of Robert Covington, who poured in 12 points of his game 19 points in the frame. Nine of those points came off long three balls, the only three he would connect on in the game. Covington finished the night six of ten from the field. The 19 point effort comes one game removed from perhaps Covington’s worst effort as a 76er, on a night where he went 0-10 from the field.
Dario Saric would also play a key role in the second quarter, picking up nine, exactly half, of his game 18 points. Saric was, again, efficient from the field, connecting on eight of 11 shots, including two of four from beyond the arc.
When the half came to a close, the 76ers had dropped 70 points on the Nets on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, including over 54 percent from three. Four of the five 76ers’ starter had broken double figures by the time the half ended, leaving Ben Simmons as the lone single digit first half scorer with seven points.
The scoring drastically settled down in the second half, as the pace of play also diminished for the final 24 minutes. Nets; guard D’Angelo Russell would attempt to will his Brooklyn squad back into contention to start the third quarter, as he took over as the offense’s primary scorer. After Jarrett Allen got the scoring started for the Nets in the third, Russell would connect for 12 consecutive Brooklyn points, trimming the 76ers’ lead to as little as eight, 82-74. The Ohio State product would eventually finish the contest with a game high 26 points on a nine of 17 shooting night.
The 76ers would trade offense for defense in the fourth quarter Sunday night, as the Philadelphia defensive unit held the Nets to just 14 points in the final 12 minutes of play. It took Brooklyn over three and a half minutes to get on the board in the fourth quarter, and the team didn’t connect on its first field goal of the quarter for nearly eight minutes. Former 76er Nik Stauskas finally ended that scoring drought with a three to cut the 76er’s lead to 24. Over that defensive stand, the 76ers forced six consecutive missed shots and five turnovers.
By the end of the night, all five starters finished in double figures, and eight 76ers in total scored ten or more points.
While the 76ers certainly cooled off a bit in the second half, scoring 40 points to the first half’s 70, the team still managed to shoot over 52 percent from the field. Of the 11 76ers to check into the game tonight, ten scored, leaving Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot as the lone non-scorers.
The Nets, meanwhile, struggled all night from the field to find consistency, especially in the second half. After scoring 60 points in the first 24 minutes, Brooklyn managed 37 in the final 24. The team shot just under 39 percent from the field, including 10-28 from deep. Outside of Russell, just two Nets’ players figured in double digits, as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dropped 12 on six of nine from the field, and Spencer Dinwiddie provided 13 on 14 attempts.
The victory improves the 76ers’ record to 36-29, and allows them to remain one game ahead of the Miami Heat, who currently hold the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference after defeating the fifth seeded Washington Wizards Saturday night. The 76ers also hold a 1.5 game lead over the eighth seeded Milwaukee Bucks, but trail the Indiana Pacers by just 1.5 games for the third seed.
For the Nets, the loss drops them to 21-46 on the season. They now sit just a game better than both the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks have already been eliminated from playoff contention, A Bucks win in Memphis Monday night would eliminate the Magic as well.
The 76ers get a chance to close the gap on those third seeded Pacers Tuesday night when they welcome Indiana to the Wells Fargo Center. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m., and you can hear all the action on 97.5 The Fanatic!