Joel Embiid Leads Sixers Past Nikola Jokic & Nuggets in MVP Statement Win

Joel Embiid, Sixers

Getty Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts during the second quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Wells Fargo Center on January 25, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

There has been plenty said about Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid. The superstar has joined the conversation as one of the most elite players across the NBA but made quite a few enemies in the process. Most recently he was not named an All-Star starter despite leading the league in scoring and the Sixers currently sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference. Facing off against Nikola Jokic, who has secured the past two MVP awards over Embiid, there was plenty of additional motivation for the big man. Embiid brushed this off following the game and said he was not surprised to crack the list.

“I’m used to it. It’s not the first time,” Embiid said postgame. “I think it’s more motivation to go out and try to win the whole thing. I guess that’s the only way to get that respect.” He continued on to discuss how he is aware of his perception of NBA circles and doesn’t plan on changing.

“I was not surprised,” Embiid said. “I think it’s well-documented that I’m not well-liked and that’s cool. I don’t know if it’s because I troll a lot or I guess I’m an asshole but I’ll keep doing me.”

While he may have had all the composure in the world talking to the media, his play told a different story.

Embiid’s Heroic Performance

It was clear from the opening tip that Embiid was playing with an extra chip on his shoulder. He started off the game attacking Jokic downhill and drawing an and-one on the Nuggets star. Embiid scored 14 points in the first quarter and made it a point to attack on the offensive end whenever there was an opportunity.

Too often when Embiid gets overly excited about a matchup he tends to make some poor on-court decisions. While his passion is admirable, he can play with tunnel vision and attempt ill-advised shots or make unnecessary turnovers. This was the case during the Sixers’ previous victory against Ben Simmons and the Nets. While Philadelphia still came out on top, Embiid scored just 26 points and shot 6-18 from the field.

However, it was a different story for Embiid in this matchup. He managed to channel his passion in a way that benefitted the Sixers to the greatest extent. The five-time All-Star ended with 47 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks. He became just the third player in NBA history to record such a stat line. Embiid also tied Michael Jordan with 33 games in his career with 40 points and 10 rebounds. Shaquille O’Neal is the only other player in NBA history with more (43).

These were far from empty stats as the Sixers needed his production to get the victory. Philadelphia trailed by 17 during the game and it was Embiid who took over late to drive the team to get a win. Trailing 110-108 with just under six minutes to play, Embiid led the Sixers on a 7-0 run by himself to take a five-point lead. He also capped things off with a step-back three-pointer which lit the Wells Fargo Center on fire.

The superstar took pride in his shotmaking down the stretch. “I’ve always liked to think that I’m a closer, and I am,” Embiid said. “But, it’s fun taking the last shots or taking the last-second shots…It’s fun for me. I like that challenge.”

P.J. Tucker Steps Up

While Embiid dominated the stat sheet, it was P.J. Tucker who did the little things the Sixers needed. “We don’t win the game if P.J. Tucker doesn’t play,” Doc Rivers said. “That’s why we went out and got him. Cause of nights like tonight where he can go out and win a game.”

The game changed in the second half when Tucker began guarding Jokic. This allowed Embiid to float in the paint and be more proactive in providing help defense to others. This was especially necessary as Denver was having rabid success with their back cuts and off-ball movement, and Embiid’s presence as a shot-blocker helped take it away. Jokic ended the matchup with 24 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds. He also was held to just two points in the fourth quarter as the Sixers stormed back to get the win.

Tucker scored just two points in the matchup but they could not have come at a bigger time. The Sixers led 120-117 with 1:02 to go when James Harden, who ended with 17 points and 13 assists, pulled up for a three-pointer. Harden’s attempt was off the mark, but Tucker managed to tip in the shot to put the Sixers up five. He then followed up the possession by notching a steal on the defensive end.

The 126-119 victory marked the Sixers’ seventh consecutive victory. They also have now won 20 of their last 24 and sit at 32-16 on the season. This is an impressive turnaround considering the team’s slow start to the season and they appear to be hitting their stride. While they have a difficult schedule down the stretch, the team has done an excellent job of taking things one game at a time and has managed to climb up the Eastern Conference Standings.

This victory was a statement win for both Embiid and the Sixers. Embiid went toe-to-toe with the player who has beaten him out in the race for accolades so often and got the better of Jokic. The Sixers also notched an impressive victory in which they came back from being double digits against the best team in the Western Conference. These are the types of wins that grow a true contender and the Sixers will look to further build on this moving forward.

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