Embiid works OT, pays off in 1st win
PHILADELPHIA >> During practices and after, before games and in them, through training camp and through an 0-7 start to the regular season, Brett Brown had one thought. The Sixers, he believed, were capable of more.
Friday, Brown was proven correct when the Sixers wasted a late lead in regulation yet played with passion and bounce in overtime, defeating the Indiana Pacers, 109-105, at the Wells Fargo Center.
Despite having hit his usual 24-minute playingtime restriction, Joel Embiid was permitted an additional 1:57 in overtime, which he put to entertaining use.
“I thought my time was up,” Embiid said. “I was kind of yelling at them to let me play … and crying a little bit. So they let me play and we got the win. So that was good.”
Completing his 25-point night, the center hit two free throws with 8.6 seconds left to give the Sixers their four-point lead. He had five points in overtime, and also had 17,643 roaring “Trust the Process” and “MVP” between exhales of relief.
“The group is very tight,” Brown said. “The group is together. It puts in work. And we believe good days will add up. And I remind them of that. There is still a long ways to go. We’ve seen the end of games and tight games for a while now. But the bottom line is we got our first win and in the room, they feel great about themselves. And I am very happy for them.”
Playing 25:45, Embiid paced the Sixers with 25 points, going 12-for-14 from the line. He added seven rebounds. Ersan Ilyasova and Nik Stauskas supplied 14 points apiece. Gerald Henderson The Sixers’ Joel Embiid, center, celebrates after his team won its first game of the season Friday night at Wells Fargo Center. had 12, Robert Covington 10.
With Embiid on his usual limit and Jahlil Okafor not expected to play at all, Richaun Holmes battled for eight points and 12 rebounds. Okafor, who will play Saturday in Atlanta as Embiid rests, did clock 2:49 Friday when Embiid hit early foul trouble.
Paul George bagged 26 points for Indiana, which had defeated the Sixers, 122115, in overtime Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Having struggled all season to finish games, the Sixers wasted a 100-95 lead in the final 25.4 seconds of regulation. Monta Ellis scored on a drive and added a free throw with 22 seconds left to draw the Pacers within two. After a Sergio Rodriguez turnover, Henderson fouled George with 2.8 seconds left.
George made both shots, Embiid failed on a 25-foot shot at the horn, and the Sixers had completed a too-familiar 48 minutes.
Overtime was balanced, but the Sixers took a 106105 lead on an Embiid drive with 55.1 seconds left. George missed a jumper, the Sixers took possession … and kept it for a while. Though Embiid missed a 17-foot jumper with 14.9 showing, he corralled his own rebound and was fouled by C.J. Miles.
Embiid downed two free throws for the 109-105 lead, and George and Jeff Teague each missed a desperate three-point attempt before the horn.
“It feels great,” Embiid said. “We had chances to make shots in the clutch and make plays in the clutch. It is a learning process for us. And you have to trust it.”
••• Perhaps the Sixers could have won without those bonus minutes from Embiid, who has been on a strict playing-time limit set by the organization’s sports-science directors. Brett Brown, though, was reluctant to take that risk. Was it in his mind? “Yeah,” he said, grinning. “I mean, no. I have to check with my lawyer and all about it. But he came in and he won the game for us. Lots of other people contributed to that, but Joel was the focal point at the end.”
Embiid will not play Saturday night when the Sixers visit Atlanta. But he will make the road trip and play Monday in Houston.
••• Brown was not expecting to play Jahlil Okafor Friday. But some early Embiid foul trouble nudged him into giving the second-year center 2:49 of playing time in the first half.
Okafor (knee), who is also on a strict time limit, will play Saturday in Atlanta, taking Embiid’s minutes.
With the Embiid-Okafor shuffle on, Richaun Holmes is more vital. Holmes played 24:26 Friday and provided eight points and 12 rebounds.
“Richaun, I feel, is the most disappointed about the opportunities that I have been able to give him,” Brown said. “We saw what he did in the preseason. He’s got pace and he plays above the rim and he has sort of that athletic tint to his game And I have not been able to find minutes for him at the five spot while those two bigs are playing.”
••• Dario Saric, who has been inconsistent, was a factor Friday, scoring eight points.
“It’s an infant stage of him,” Brown said. “He’s a baby in this league. I just think we are going to see some swings in his performance levels over his first year.
“All of us should expect some inconsistencies. But he’s such a terrific player. He has the ability to put it on the floor. Historically, he has been known to be an excellent passer. I think he’s got an instinct of high-lows when he is working with bigs. When he flashes to the high post, he can deliver a post feed or hit a three. I see him being a very versatile forward.”
••• NOTES >> The Sixers snapped a 44-game losing streak in October and November games. “That first win for the group is massive,” Brown said. “I know it is only one, but you can take a deep breath and go fight again.” ... After the two-game road trip, the Sixers will host Washington Wednwesday.