An overwhelming Joel Embiid led the Sixers to their sixth straight win Friday night at Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid had 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in the team's 119-100 victory over the Spurs. The Sixers are 22-16 and can win a season-best seventh game in a row when they play the Rockets on Monday in Houston.
Seth Curry and Tobias Harris each notched 23 points.
Dejounte Murray posted 27 points and nine assists.
The Sixers were down Tyrese Maxey, Jaden Springer, Paul Reed (health and safety protocols), Shake Milton (back contusion), Isaiah Joe (back pain) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons).
HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto reported Friday that the Sixers plan to keep Reed for the rest of the season and fully guarantee his salary. Reed is set to make approximately $1.52 million during the 2021-22 campaign, per Spotrac.
San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich said pregame he didn’t know half of his players’ names. Among the key Spurs out because of health and safety protocols were Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Derrick White and Doug McDermott.
Here are observations on the Sixers' win over the depleted Spurs:
Embiid a class above
The Sixers began with a nice action that produced a Harris layup. Harris made an Iverson cut, then darted backdoor instead of going all the way to the right wing, and Embiid hit him in stride.
Embiid dished another impressive assist a few minutes later, finding Thybulle for a dunk before a San Antonio double team could have any impact. Thybulle (12 points on 5-for-5 shooting, two steals) returned Friday after two games out because of COVID-19 protocols.
Speaking of nifty passes, an Embiid over-the-shoulder dime to Thybulle in the second quarter wasn’t a bad one.
As is often the case with Embiid, it was immediately evident that he was superior to everyone on the court. He drew two fouls on Jakob Poeltl within two minutes, prompting a quick Popovich timeout. An Embiid fadeaway jumper put the Sixers ahead 20-7. He took nine foul shots in the first quarter, while the Spurs took zero.
Embiid was sharp early on defense, too. He guarded Murray on one switch and stopped the Spurs guard from creating any space; Murray ended up committing an up-and-down violation.
Even after the Sixers grabbed a large lead, Embiid was not in a merciful mood. He narrowly missed a dunk late in the second period over Drew Eubanks before throwing one in on Jock Landale.
In the third quarter, Embiid added two more ferocious dunks to the highlight reel.
For those inclined to nitpick, Embiid did lose a few rebounding battles and settled for some fadeaway jumpers. However, what’s far more relevant is that he’s played MVP-level basketball since shooting 3 for 17 on Dec. 1 in Boston.
“You can kind of see the fear in the defenders’ eyes," Harris said. “When a guy’s that big and strong and able to make shots … he’s a guard in a center’s body. He makes some great moves, great footwork all around — his skill, his touch, shooting the ball. For the guys guarding him it’s like, what can you do?"
Fourth-quarter injury scares
Furkan Korkmaz was again among the Sixers’ main ball handlers without Maxey and Milton. Curry and Harris also continued to bring the ball up the floor plenty.
Those two were scorching to start the game as both opened 6 for 7 from the floor. Curry was smooth and self-assured, striding into jumpers with ease. Harris did much of his damage in and around the paint.
“The only play call (for Harris) was the first play of the game. ... Other than that, he’s got good rhythm right now," Rivers said. “He’s playing fast. You don’t see the ball sticking in his hands; it’s quick decisions. When he does that, he’s really good.”
The Sixers did have a couple of lulls. San Antonio trimmed its deficit to 43-34 in the second quarter and Andre Drummond was called for three fouls in his first six minutes. Murray got rolling early in the third and almost singlehandedly cut the Sixers’ 18-point halftime lead to 12.
Korkmaz appeared to suffer a hand injury in the fourth quarter and went to the locker room with head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson, though he eventually checked back into the game.
Curry walked to the bench with a limp with 6:07 remaining, and Embiid had a noticeable limp about 30 seconds later. The outcome wasn't yet fully cemented and both stayed in the game. A Danny Green three-pointer with 3:52 to go stretched the Sixers' lead to 110-94 and allowed the team to breathe a bit easier.
Brown flashes in front of Philly fans
Charlie Brown Jr. debuted for his hometown team late in the first period and had a crowd-pleasing first stint.
The Saint Joseph’s product, who’s on a 10-day hardship contract, gave the Sixers a 33-14 lead with an and-one layup in transition. He later picked up two steals and looked nimble defensively. The 24-year-old had another positive play in the third quarter, grabbing an offensive rebound and kicking the ball out to Curry for a three-pointer.
Brown’s bright 12 minutes don’t indicate anything profound about his NBA future one way or the other, but it was a neat night for a local kid.
“My agent called … and I was kind of shocked,” he said after shootaround Friday. “I never knew I’d be able to play for my home team. It’s all love. I’m blessed to be here. I’m blessed to be with these guys and grow.”
Curry, a two-time D-League All-Star, liked what he saw from Brown.
“It’s a tough situation," Curry said. “He came in and brought great energy. That’s the key to it, coming in and trying to make your presence felt on the floor. Most of the time, that’s not going to be through scoring the ball, so you’ve got to try to do little things. First of all, do your job on the defensive end.
“And then try to make little plays, like he did with offensive rebounds, cutting, getting out in transition. That’s the stuff you’ve got to do. You’ve got to find your baskets without plays being called for you. He did a good job of coming in, being long, being active and giving us a lift.”
Braxton Key, another former Delaware Blue Coat on a hardship deal, made his NBA debut in garbage time. Two-way player Aaron Henry scored his first NBA basket.