Joel Embiid reminded Sixers fans Sunday night that their team has the reigning MVP.
Embiid did it all in the Sixers' home opener, posting 35 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, six blocks and two steals.
He played just 29 minutes and wasn't needed for the fourth quarter of the Sixers' 126-98 win over the Trail Blazers at Wells Fargo Center.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Philadelphia sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Tyrese Maxey added 26 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Though he played the entire game, Maxey said he felt the effects of a hit to the “funny bone.”
“The whole side of my hand feels a little numb, but I think I’ll be OK,” he said postgame. “Life goes on.”
Tobias Harris had 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
Portland's Shaedon Sharpe scored a team-high 20 points.
James Harden (return to competition reconditioning) remained out, though he did sit on the Sixers’ bench during the game.
Harden was present for the team’s pregame film session and walkthrough, Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. According to Nurse, all signs have been positive with Harden’s conditioning work and the Sixers will look to have him at practice Tuesday.
The 2-1 Sixers’ next game is a Thursday night meeting with the Raptors. Here are observations on their victory over the Blazers:
Different game when Embiid’s out there
The Sixers started like a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
Matisse Thybulle guarded Maxey and forced his former teammate into a rare turnover. After a nice backdoor cut, Thybulle slammed in a dunk to put Portland up 6-0.
The Blazers’ lack of experience was soon evident, though. The Sixers had Embiid come out to the perimeter on pick-and-rolls involving 19-year-old guard Scoot Henderson. Embiid did that effectively on several occasions, unsettling the No. 3 overall pick and speeding him up. On the play after an Embiid steal, Maxey applied good ball pressure and forced Henderson to step on the sideline.
Those stops fueled the Sixers’ transition offense. During a 14-0 run, Harris scored a fast-break hoop seconds after Embiid rejected a Jerami Grant layup.
Portland appeared thoroughly overmatched against Embiid, who finished the first half with a stat line of 24 points, nine rebounds, five blocks, three assists and two steals.
“He looks really good," Nurse said. “He’s moving great and he’s playing with tons of energy. I don’t know if I’ve seen him, even when I’ve gone against him, at that assertive level that he’s played at here recently.”
As is so often the case, the extent of Embiid’s impact was immediately obvious when he rested. Portland started to score freely with him off the court, trimmed its deficit down to one on a Deandre Ayton turnaround jumper over Paul Reed, and ultimately took the lead on two Sharpe free throws. Reed missed a couple of three-point attempts and had a rough night overall.
Embiid wasn’t pleased with the officiating when he checked back in, voicing his objections to both calls and no-calls multiple times. Embiid’s smack of the basket stanchion following a call against PJ Tucker resulted in a technical foul. Suddenly, after Grant coasted in for a dunk and Nurse called timeout, the Sixers trailed by six points.
And, sure enough, they held a six-point halftime lead after a no-nonsense Embiid stretch highlighted by a spin move and powerful dunk over Robert Williams III. He wrestled back control of the game without much trouble.
A chaotic Springer stint
The Sixers’ 10-man rotation Sunday did not include Danny Green.
Danuel House Jr. stayed in the rotation and Jaden Springer re-entered after a DNP on Saturday night against the Raptors.
Springer’s second-quarter stint was quite eventful. His physicality and aggression frequently crossed the line — he got whistled for four fouls in slightly under four minutes — though Springer’s anticipation and explosiveness popped as they had during the preseason. He soared to swat away a Sharpe try at the rim, scrapped well to pull down an offensive rebound, and exhibited zero timidity. Of course, the 21-year-old can’t commit a foul per minute moving forward.
Kelly Oubre Jr. was again the second unit’s top offensive option by a comfortable margin, scoring 12 points, though he shot only 3 for 10 from the floor. Nurse said pregame that he believes Oubre has the tools to be a top-tier defender, but the Sixers want to see him be more consistently solid. The lefty wing picked up two steals and a block Sunday.
Encouraging signs from Harris and Melton
Though everything was secondary to Embiid, De'Anthony Melton's passing and Harris' efficient scoring were both notable positives for the Sixers.
Melton dished out eight assists and only committed one turnover.
“I just think he is an offensive creator," Nurse said. “He’s got a shiftiness to his game and if he’s going to be able to get into the paint, he’s got to make the right reads out. I give him a lot of credit. He didn’t get a lot of buckets going his way or even attempts in the first half, but I thought his defense ... I was walking out with him at the half and I was like, ‘Man, that last stretch of defense by you was awesome.’
“He was really fighting over screens and making plays. He’s really got quick hands; he’ll get his hands on the ball a lot, and I thought he was really good defensively.”
Melton's standout assist was a long-range fling ahead to Embiid, who leaped to haul in the pass. Embiid then made a lefty layup with Malcolm Brogdon holding on to him and delighted the home crowd with his crotch-chopping celebration.
“I don’t remember that,” Embiid quipped.
Harris was great offensively. He recognized the right spots to be aggressive, sprinted out well in transition, and eagerly sought out chances to use his physical strength. The veteran forward was called for an offensive foul trying to seal Sharpe in the paint, but the Sixers won't mind those sorts of plays at all.
By the time Harris drained a third-quarter three to give the Sixers an 89-68 lead, it was clear they were on their way to a comfortable win and wouldn't waste Embiid's dominance.