Joel Embiid channels his inner-Kobe, lifts Sixers to another dramatic win

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid reacts after the 76ers won an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, March 10, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers know how to fall behind opponents early and by a lot. They also know how to rally and pull out some truly incredible victories. Merge both realities, and you have the Sixers’ game against Portland. Where do we start?

A rocky start

The ugly side of this game for Philly came compliments of Portland’s ridiculous shooting. From the jump, the Blazers drenched the net with 3-pointers like rain during a monsoon. Whether it was Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, or Anfernee Simons, the players for Portland launched shots from anywhere and everywhere. 

Down 15-4 in the first quarter, the Sixers struggled to defend the 3-point line and make baskets of their own. After a cold start though, Joel Embiid got going. He scored in the paint on several plays, but he uncharacteristically missed multiple foul shots.

Tyrese Maxey got on the board with a 3-pointer, and De’Anthony Melton generated offense from defense, scoring on a fastbreak after a steal. Tobias Harris, who struggled most of the night before getting benched in the final quarter, did not make a field goal in the entire first half. 

Off the bench, Paul Reed provided energy and offensive rebounding. He secured four boards in just under five minutes of early action. Georges Niang was able to chip in, knocking down two triples. Still, that was not enough to close the gap.

Meanwhile, Anfernee Simons could not miss. To make matters more frustrating for Philly, Damian Lillard was hunting for foul calls, baiting Sixers’ defenders into contact. In addition, two former Sixers, Jerami Grant and Matisse Thybulle, contributed to a ballooning lead that revealed another glaring deficit going into halftime. Grant was effective in the post, and Thybulle hit an open corner-three.

Second half

Out of the locker room, it was much of the same for the Sixers. With the exception of Embiid, the offense sputtered. Though James Harden flirted with a triple-double (19/8/9), his shooting was inefficient on the night, only making 42.9 percent. Maxey, who did hit a key layup in crunch time, only attempted eight shots in 34 minutes.

Portland’s lead was not going away. Hot shooting from Simons continued, as Lillard feasted from the foul line. A Matisse Thybulle alley-oop from Jusuf Nurkic made matters even more bleak as the final quarter approached.

The Sixers’ bench unit actually sparked the come-back, led by a pair of triples from Niang. With outstanding rim protection from Embiid and nice perimeter defense from Melton, Philly was closing in on the Blazers’ lead. An alley-oop dunk from Melton to Daniel House, Jr. lifted fans to their feet in the Wells Fargo Center.

After an 11-2 run by the Sixers, Chauncey Billups did all he could to thwart Embiid. Nurkic tried. Drew Eubanks tried. Embiid took the load and carried the Sixers the rest of the way. He scored nine points in the final period, drawing fouls to stop the clock and capitalize on free throws.

With urgency driving the Blazers to maintain the dwindling lead, Damian Lillard hit his biggest shot of the night. Embiid contested a long two from Lillard, which swished through the net with 1:33 on the clock.

Down to the wire

Tyrese Maxey drove the lane as the shot clock was about to expire. He scored a layup, giving the Sixers hope. Relying on Melton to contain Lillard, the Sixers needed a stop. As the all-time clutch performer tried to score a basket in the paint, Melton blocked Lillard, giving the Sixers a final shot for the win.

After taking a timeout with seven seconds remaining, Doc Rivers designed a play for Embiid. The Sixers’ All-Star leader and MVP candidate dribbled right, and then spun back to the middle. With Nurkic in his face, Embiid faded away, reminiscent of Kobe Bryant. Swish. The scoreboard read 120-119, marking the first time the 76ers led all night.

The basket filled the arena with cheers as Embiid was swarmed by his teammates. With less than two seconds on the clock, Portland had one more chance. To nobody’s surprise, Lillard was the primary option. Yet, after inbounding the ball, Melton disrupted the passing lane, making the reception difficult. After the desperation shot missed badly, Sixers fans celebrated the come-back win.

In one of many dramatic wins this season, Joel Embiid proved once again that his name deserves to be at the top of the MVP candidate list.

The Sixers play their next game on Sunday evening at the Wells Fargo Center against the Washington Wizards. Game starts at 6:00 PM EST.