Sixers win as Joel Embiid puts on 39-point masterclass

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) goes up for a shot past Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid (11) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 7, 2023, in Minneapolis. Embiid had 39 points as Philadelphia won 117-94. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

On Tuesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers picked up another major win on the final game of their road trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves. This brings the Sixers up to 43-22 for the season, just 1.5 games behind the Boston Celtics and four games behind the Milwaukee Bucks as the race for the top of the Eastern Conference heats up.

For the second night in a row, Joel Embiid put on an absolute masterclass. Scoring a whopping 39 points in just the first three-quarters of the game, Embiid earned himself a rare fourth quarter off as the Sixers extended their lead to 19 points at the end of the third.

Not only did he hit all 9 of his free throws and go 4-4 from beyond the arc (including this unreal fadeaway jumper!), Embiid led the lagging Sixers defense back to life with six defensive rebounds, three blocks, and a steal. Even after all these years, there are still some games that leave watchers in awe of what the 7-footer is able to do. Without a doubt, tonight was one of those games.

The night didn’t start out as a coast to an easy win, though, especially with James Harden out due to left foot soreness. This led to Tyrese Maxey back in his old spot as the team’s primary playmaker. While he was far from disappointing at 27 points, it still took some time in the 1st quarter to settle into the adjustment.

The early part of the game saw numerous missed buckets for both teams, and from the start, the Sixers struggled to contain Anthony Edwards. The first quarter ended with the Sixers trailing the Wolves by three at 27-24 (and with a rather strange lineup of Shake Milton, Danuel House Jr., Jalen McDaniels, Georges Niang, and Paul Reed).

But it didn’t take long in the second for the Sixers to put together the pieces. Realizing that three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert was struggling to guard Embiid, while the 6’4” Edwards didn’t have the height to meaningfully double-team him, the Embiid/Maxey duo quickly simplified their offense – Maxey would make a quick pass out to Embiid at the perimeter, who in turn would either get to the rim, take a shot, or pass back to Maxey to make his own step-back three.

Multiple quick swing passes allowed De’Anthony Melton, Shake Milton, and Tobias Harris to contribute offensively; Harris led a couple of those plays with a neat little spin move that you frequently forget he’s capable of. A strong defensive showing, particularly in transition, allowed the team to end the half in the lead 58-45.

But the third quarter was where the real action – and 22 of Embiid’s 39 points – were to be found. While he’s steadily improved, passing out of the double team has never been Embiid’s strongest suit. Yet rarely has he looked so at ease under pressure as he did tonight. Though Rudy Gobert may not be exactly the player he once was, the Timberwolves still sit above .500 – and on the cusp of the play-in tournament. They’re not a bad team, but they simply had no answer for Joel Embiid.

The bench unit came in in the fourth and, thankfully, performed well. Shake Milton, Georges Niang, and Danuel House Jr. all played impactful minutes. For Jalen McDaniels’ part, the newcomer outpaced his brother Jaden (who starts for Minnesota) with five points and five rebounds to Jaden’s three each. Even Furkan Korkmaz saw a few minutes of playing time, picking up a nice six points in five minutes. 

Overall, it was an outstanding performance by the Sixers, led by one of the best players in the league. Defensively, the Sixers held Minnesota to just 39.8% shooting – with Anthony Edwards among their ranks, that’s far from a small feat. The team now heads back to Philadelphia, ending their road trip at 4-1 and having the next two days off before facing the Portland Trail Blazers – including the return of Matisse Thybulle – at home on Friday night.