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Joel Embiid masterful in return, 76ers beat West No.1 Thunder

Joel Embiid masterful in return, 76ers beat West No.1 Thunder

Philadelphia 76ers superstar center Joel Embiid made a successful return to the court from his injury to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 109-105, on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center in downtown Philadelphia.

The league’s reigning MVP scored 24 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists in 29 minutes of play in his first game back since January 30, missing the last 27 games for the Sixers.

Embiid was actually listed out 12 hours before the game after reports surfaced he might play at home vs the Thunder. He was upgraded to questionable and a game-time decision a few hours later. It was only then 90 minutes before tipoff that it was announced he was going to play.

“I’m just happy we got through and we got the win,” said a visibly gassed Embiid after the game. “Usually when I get hurt, I just move on to the next one. This one was a little – it took a toll mentally. You know, I just wanna come back [asap] and I think we got a chance even if I’m not in the level I’m at – and I’m only gonna get better. But, this one was probably the hardest by far – especially mentally.”

Embiid looked spry and ready to go by being aggressive early in the game, but it was clear he was still not in game shape conditioning-wise after some short front-rim misses on his jumpers. His minutes ended up getting managed all game long with Coach Nick Nurse playing him in spurts to help him regain his MVP form.

Embiid was mainly played alongside probably the Sixers’ best lineup in Kyle Lowry (Maxey could be in this place but was injured for this game), Buddy Hield, Tobias Harris, and Nicolas Batum and had his best stretch with those four alongside him. The Sixers ran different actions including their patented two-man game as well as dribble handoffs and pick-and-pop jumpers for either the normal or inverted screening actions.

Even up against a Thunder team missing MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and star tandem Jalen Williams, the Sixers had a hard time putting away the top team in the West. It wasn’t until the 4th quarter when the Sixers took the momentum and eventually the lead with huge efforts from Kyle Lowry and Kelly Oubre Jr. 

However, none of it was bigger than Embiid’s two sequences with under a minute to go in the 4th quarter. He sank two free throws after grabbing an offensive rebound off Harris’ miss and then forced a turnover on Josh Giddey – stealing the ball and making another two free throws after getting fouled on the drive to throw the game out of OKC’s reach.

With the win, the Sixers move to 41-35, placing 8th in the Eastern Conference. They are one and a half-game back of the Heat for 7th place and just two games behind the Pacers for the 6th spot. 

Philadelphia is trying to make a late push out of the play-in tournament with Embiid back in the fold with six games left in their regular season. They will have upcoming big games against Miami (which they will face in their next game) and Orlando while facing non-playoff teams Memphis, Detroit, San Antonio, and Brooklyn in the other four. 

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