Sixers down reigning champs as Embiid explodes for 41 points

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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)

In the second night of a home back-to-back, the Philadelphia 76ers welcomed in the defending champions, the Denver Nuggets. Although the league refuses to lean into the best rivalry that never was between its two best players, those being the Sixers’ Joel Embiid and the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, plenty of fans around the league eagerly awaited this matchup.

Ahead of the matchup, there was concern about the availability of the two stars of the evening, but to the delight of those in attendance, both Embiid and Jokic took the floor. From the jump, the two titans of basketball battled, leading the push for their respective squads.

Embiid v. Jokic

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, dribbles the ball as Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

The battle that alone was worth the price of admission, reigning MVP versus reigning NBA champion Nikola Jokic. Both players made strong cases, with Embiid dominating as a scorer and surprisingly winning the assists battle, while Jokic was impressive in his own right offensively and utterly obliterated the Sixers on the boards.

While there is no true way to stop the two-time MVP, the Sixers did a solid job of neutralizing what is arguably the best part of his game, that being his ability to find seemingly any player anywhere at any time. By fronting Jokic with primarily Tobias Harris and secondarily with Nico Batum and Embiid shooting a switch, the Sixers were able to hold Jokic to just three assists, which certainly was not inconsequential when it came to the outcome of the game.

In the end, it was Embiid who asserted himself in the final quarter, finishing the game with 41 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 126-121 win over the Denver Nuggets. In one of the best games of this season for the team, the Sixers treated their fans to a hard-fought win that was won on the back of their superstar, the reigning league MVP, Joel Embiid.

With a Little Help from My Friends

The story of the game was the matchup between Jokic and Embiid, but the difference was arguably the clutch play of Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, who it’s worth noting is beloved by former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, left, and Joel Embiid react after a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

While the Nuggets enjoyed a balanced scoring contribution from their team with seven double-digit points scorers, Philadelphia was carried by their big three, which, on occasion, includes Tobias Harris. During Embiid’s recent three-game absence, Harris stepped up in a major way to help carry the team, particularly in the team’s victory over the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 12.

Against Denver, it was Harris who initiated the second-half push that worked the Sixers back into the lead of the game and even gave them command of the game. While Joel Embiid’s return in the fourth obviously fanned those flames, it was Harris who sparked the fire.

Tyrese Maxey was also unsurprisingly key in this matchup, racking up 23 points along with five rebounds and nine assists. While it wasn’t his normal powerhouse scoring performance, Maxey filled in the cracks of what the Sixers needed, that being an extra scoring punch and, of course, his typical role as Embiid’s partner in the Sixers’ lethal two-man game.

Up next for the Sixers

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) celebrates his 3-pointer as Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The Sixers will have a couple of days of rest as they travel down to Orlando to face off against Paolo Banchero and the Magic on Friday night. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM, and fans will be happy to know that they can watch this one on NBC Sports Philadelphia.