The long national nightmare is finally over for the Philadelphia 76ers. No, Ben Simmons isn’t packing his bags in the wake of a late-breaking Woj bomb or preparing for his big return to the hardwood with a newfound love for Philly.
Rather, Joel Embiid is finally back in the fold after an extended stay in the league’s health and safety protocols.
The four-time NBA All-Star and 2021 MVP runner-up was back on the court at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday for a bout with Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves. And while the Sixers ultimately ceded the game in heartbreaking fashion, Embiid looked like his best self in his first live action since duking it out with COVID-19.
In a whopping 45 minutes of play, Embiid dropped 42 points on 23 shot attempts and added 14 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. His scoring total didn’t just represent a new season-high, it was also his largest output since dropping a 42-piece on the Cleveland Cavaliers in February.
A Particularly Tough Loss
Embiid’s outburst notwithstanding, the T-Wolves were ultimately able to hold off the home team with a 121-120 win after two overtimes.
The Sixers started the game off in a particularly poor manner; so much so that the Wolves had built a 20-point lead by the early third quarter and looked to be cruising to an easy W. At that point, though, Philly’s defense clamped down momentarily, holding Minnesota to just 16 points on 6-of-20 shooting in the period.
From there, it was a knockdown, drag-out battle in which Embiid and Wolves guard D’Angelo Russell essentially traded haymakers. Russel put up 27 of his 35 points during the fourth quarter and overtime periods. For his part, Embiid put up 25 over the same stretch.
However, there were key areas where the Wolves were significantly better than the Sixers. Led by Jarred Vanderbilt (14 rebounds) and Towns (10 boards), Minnesota won the rebounding battle 54-44. Consequently, the Wolves had a 15-point advantage in second-chance points.
Minnesota was also plus-18 in the paint.
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Embiid Was Rocked by Covid
Embiid may have been otherworldly in his return but make no mistake about it — he was rocked by COVID-19.
“It hasn’t been good. That jawn hit me hard,” Embiid said after the game, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. It was that bad. So I’m just thankful to be sitting here. I struggled with it, but I’m just glad that I got over it and I’m here doing what I love with some good people.”
For his part, Tobias Harris was amazed by what he saw from Embiid.
“That’s a tough one coming back from being out for that long of a period of time and not playing, but he did his thing,” Harris said, via Sixers Wire. “He was carrying us all throughout the overtimes and just getting to his spots and getting his shot, but all night, his conditioning looked good out there as well so it was good to have him back with the team. You just saw his presence and what was missed for sure.”