Joel Embiid Leads Sixers to an Overtime Victory vs. Nets on Thursday
PHILADELPHIA, PA -- On Thursday night, the Philadelphia 76ers returned from the NBA All-Star break in dramatic fashion. First, the night started with both team's point guards being ruled out for the game. While the Brooklyn Nets knew they were going to be without their starting guard Kyrie Irving, the team didn't think they were going to lose their star for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, the Sixers lost their starting point guard for the night as Ben Simmons was ruled out after being labeled as questionable for lower-back tightness. While Simmons' setback shouldn't last too long, the Sixers were going to miss their starting guard for just the third time this season.
Many times this year, Simmons was expected to put the team on his back as Joel Embiid has missed a notable amount of games due to multiple reasons. This time around, though, it was Embiid's turn to prove he could lead a short-handed Sixers team to victory.
The Sixers were off to a hot start thanks to their big man. In the first quarter, Embiid managed to drain 11 points, as he shot four-for-five from the field during his first seven minutes on the floor. At that point, the Sixers had a nice cushion as they led the Nets 20-4 before Embiid hit the bench.
As Al Horford replaced the All-Star big man, the Sixers quickly fell apart. By the time the first quarter concluded, the Sixers only led the Nets 26-20. The second quarter was even tougher to deal with for Philly as they lost control and allowed the Nets to not only jump in front but also pick up a 20-point lead at a point. The Sixers narrowed it down to ten by the time halftime rolled around, but it was clear somebody had to step up.
Embiid embraced the role of being Philadelphia's superhero. Despite being winded late in the game, Embiid racked up 21 points in the second half and was a monster presence on the defensive side of the ball. His teammates, Tobias Harris, and Alec Burks had a solid second-half outing as well totaling for 22 points.
While the Sixers' second-half effort wasn't enough to help them close out the game with a victory right away, their comeback was worthy of enough to send the game into overtime, courtesy of Embiid's two clutch free throws and a game-saving block. Once the extra five-minute period begun, the Sixers wouldn't look back.
Not only did the Sixers prevent the Nets from scoring more than one point in overtime, but they willed their way to nine points, finishing up with a 112-104 victory in South Philly. Embiid finished the night with a season-high of 39 points and 16 total rebounds in 41 minutes of playing time.
With that win, the Sixers advance to 35-21 on the year and only trail the fourth-seeded Miami Heat by half a game. While it wasn't the prettiest victory to grab while returning from the break, the Sixers will take wins however they can get them at this point. The team will return to the court on Saturday to face the first-seeded Milwaukee Bucks for the third time this season.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_