Joel Embiid used everything in his arsenal and Ersan Ilyasova starred off the bench to lead the Sixers to a 110-99 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Trailing by 14 points at one point, the Sixers showed their maturity with a dominant fourth quarter, outscoring the Hornets by 36-19 to come back and get the win.
Coming off a win in Cleveland on Thursday night, it was a quick turnaround after the Sixers’ starters logged heavy minutes against the Cavaliers.
Friday night’s matchup had all the makings of a trap game. On the second night of a back-to-back, against a team that had a five-game winning streak snapped Wednesday by Boston, the Sixers knew they were going to have their hands full with Charlotte and that some firepower would have to come from the bench.
“We found a way to come back, win at home, and reload on a back-to-back,” coach Brett Brown said after the game.
The Sixers’ fatigue was evident through the first three quarters against the Hornets, who shot 63 percent from beyond the arc in the first half en route to a 56-48 lead at intermission despite early foul trouble for Dwight Howard.
But the Sixers had their own foul problems. Ilyasova racked up three fouls in the first half and Embiid was right behind him.
The second half started with back-to-back dunks from Embiid, one off a lob from Ben Simmons. But just as Sixers fans were celebrating Howard’s fourth foul early in the third quarter, they were quieted when Embiid committed his fourth and was sent to the bench.
Embiid hit threes, midrange shots, step-backs, and drove through defenders, doing what he could when he was on the floor finishing the night with 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“He had a good mix tonight,” Brown said.
When Embiid was not on the floor, Kemba Walker led the Hornets in opening up a 14-point lead.
“He’s quick, fast, can shoot the ball, he’s pretty athletic, too,” Embiid said of Walker. “That’s why he was an all-star, he’s just that good.”
With 3:39 left in the third quarter, Embiid returned; one minute later, Howard picked up his fifth foul, and just like that the Sixers were within single digits of the lead. In the end, it came down to the fourth quarter and it was Ilyasova’s time to shine.
Midway through the fourth, Ilyasova dished to Dario Saric, who hit a three to bring the Sixers within one point. After a timeout, Saric repaid the favor, dishing to Ilyasova for a three that gave the Sixers their first lead since the early minutes of the first quarter.
Ilyasova scored 11 points in the final 12 minutes to close the night with 18 points.
“It’s a great feeling coming here and having been part of it last year during the come up,” Ilyasova said. “I think if we continue this way, good things will happen.”
Energized, the Sixers surged, and with Ilyasova on the floor, Embiid felt like he was reliving the prosperous moments from last season.
“I told [Ilyasova], ‘Let’s do whatever we had going on in January of last year,'” Embiid said. “I’m excited to have him back. He played great.”
With the win, the Sixers improved to 34-27 on the season. They are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.