Joel Embiid’s herculean effort carries 76ers past Spurs
PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid stretched his balky back each time he had a moment’s rest.
Those vital health breaks were fleeting — Embiid gutted out nearly 40 minutes, showing again that the days of the All-Star center missing seasons and stretches of games with injuries have become a faded memory.
Embiid had 33 points and 19 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers used a pair of four-point plays in the fourth quarter to beat the San Antonio Spurs 122-120 on Wednesday night.
“He felt the responsibility to play,” coach Brett Brown said. “He’s starting to get older and feel the weight of the responsibility. He understands his role in all of this, the growth of all of this, the ownership of all of this.”
Embiid, expected to be named an All-Star starter on Thursday, shook off LaMarcus Aldridge and scored 16 straight points that kept the Sixers in the game. Landry Shamet ended Embiid’s personal run with a four-point play late in the fourth that pulled the Sixers within one.
After the Spurs nudged ahead, Shamet hit a 3 to make it a three-point game and JJ Redick gave the Sixers a 121-120 lead with 1 minute left after he converted Philadelphia’s second four-point play of the fourth.
The Spurs blew their chances to win: Philadelphia had a shot-clock violation, but DeMar DeRozan had his shot blocked by Wilson Chandler.
“I thought Wilson was maybe the main reason we won the game,” Brown said.
Corey Brewer went 1 of 2 from the free-throw line for a 122-120 lead with 1.1 seconds left. San Antonio’s final shot at sending the game into overtime was denied when Ben Simmons broke up an inbound pass headed for Marco Belinelli, with DeRozan on the bench.
“We couldn’t get one bucket to keep ahead and try to pull it out,” DeRozan said.
The packed house of 20,339 went wild as the Sixers closed on a 10-0 run while playing without star guard Jimmy Butler (sprained right wrist).
Simmons had 21 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Redick scored 19 points.
DeRozan led the Spurs with 26 points.
Embiid went 13 of 28 from the floor and had two 3-pointers. Embiid, who had his NBA-best 33rd game this season with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, hit a 3 from the top of the arc and connected on the tying free throws the next time down to send the game into the fourth tied 96-all.
“I told myself that I really needed to get going,” Embiid said. “For us to win, I had to show up. I did the best I could.”
His best was good enough against the Spurs.
The 76ers turned in the sequence of the half after Brewer’s 3 made it 51-48. Jonah Bolden blocked Aldridge twice on the same sequence and Simmons grabbed a loose ball off the second rejection. He took off and fed it to Bolden for a crowd-igniting dunk on the other end. Redick followed with a 3 for a 56-48 lead that had the four-point favorite Sixers rolling.
“We had really good resolve anytime they made a run,” Shamet said.
Spurs: Belinelli, a former 76er, got a nice ovation when he checked into the game.
76ers: Simmons played with an upper respiratory infection. Embiid’s back has bothered him for some time — NBA broadcaster Charles Barkley ripped the Sixers’ decision to play Embiid in a recent win over Indiana — and there’s no telling when it may get better.
Rapper Biz Markie was in the house, and Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and players Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins rang the ceremonial bell. Former Spur David Robinson spent several minutes signing autographs for Sixers fans.
The Spurs held their shootaround at Philadelphia’s Palestra, the historic gym known as the basketball cathedral on Penn’s campus.
“This is what you’re supposed to feel like when you play basketball,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “All these other arenas that we’re all in, they don’t do anything to your spirit. They don’t make you feel anything. You don’t fall in love.”
Villanova’s Jay Wright will serve as an assistant coach under Popovich for Team USA.
“He’s a helluva coach. He’s a helluva guy. End of story,” Popovich said. “He’s been pretty successful last time I checked.”
HE SAID IT
“He’s full of (expletive). That’s why I got rid of him. Kiss-(expletive).” — Popovich, on Brown saying Pop’s the greatest coach in NBA history.
Popovich gave his former assistant a playful shove on the sideline late in the game.
The Spurs play Saturday at New Orleans.
The Sixers open a four-game trip Saturday at Denver.
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