The 76ers needed an all-star performance on Saturday and that’s what they got from Joel Embiid.
With 29 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, and one steal, Embiid lifted the Sixers to a 116-94 victory over Milwaukee in his first home appearance since adding “all-star starter” to his resumé.
Shorthanded themselves, the Sixers had to put up a fight against an undermanned Milwaukee team at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers looked as if they had things going their way, keeping the turnovers to just three in the first half and everybody finding their spots, but the Bucks, even without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Malcolm Brogdon, were not going to go away quietly.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said the game was a perfect representation of who the Sixers are. He said that he has a group of young guys he’s trying to tame and that at times it means an up-and-down game, but that his team has the talent to regroup and pull out meaningful wins.
“The takeaway is the snapshot of how erratic and fun and sometimes good, sometimes painful this young team is,” Brown said.
Crawling back from a 16-point deficit in the second quarter, the Bucks, led by Khris Middleton, evened the score in the third quarter and forced the Sixers into bad decisions. The turnovers mounted. The Sixers coughed up 10 of their 18 turnovers in the third.
Then Embiid took over, scoring through contact, getting to the line, and imposing his will.
His energy emanated through the rest of the team. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot hit from three, Trevor Booker got the and-one, T.J. McConnell followed Booker’s lead, and the Sixers went on a 16-2 run to take a 97-82 lead.
“Anytime you’ve got a guy as dominant as [Embiid] start to get rolling, I think everyone, including the fans, feeds off it,” McConnell said. “So credit to him for getting us going.”
The Eastern Conference is tight. Just four games separated the third through eighth seeds heading into Saturday’s game.
The Bucks sat at sixth, the Sixers at eighth, and, by the end of the night, the Sixers flipped the script. In beating the Bucks, the Sixers took over sixth place in the East.
“We’re mindful of the standings,” Brown said. “We’re aware of where Milwaukee is and we’re aware that we’re going to have to get through them to claim one of those spots in April.”
With only three turnovers in the first half, Ben Simmons playing aggressively, and Robert Covington shooting the ball well, the Sixers got out in front early.
They managed to grow their lead to as many as 16 points in the second quarter, but the Bucks closed the first half on a 7-0 run, trailing, 61-55, at halftime.
With JJ Redick (left fibula injury) and Jerryd Bayless (sore left wrist) watching in street clothes, the Sixers were going to need some help.
Help presented itself in the first half in the form of a team effort and contributions from every player who touched the court. Justin Anderson showed his power with a driving dunk late in the first quarter and was quickly followed by James Young, who made good on his first shot attempt as a Sixer, sinking a corner three.
It wasn’t until early in the third that things started to get dicey. But when his team was in need of a punch of power, Embiid provided willingly, and the Sixers held the Bucks to only 14 fourth-quarter points.
“We locked in defensively, got the stops that we needed and we got a pretty good win,” Embiid said.
In just his second start of the season, Luwawu-Cabarrot finished with 16 points, joining Simmons (16), Covington (13), Dario Saric (13), and McConnell (11) in double-figure scoring.
Having won eight of the last 10 games and three in a row, the Sixers improved to 22-20 on the season.