NEW YORK – This was supposed to an easy game for the 76ers. One of those jump-out-to-a-sizable-lead, then-rest-your-starters and hope-no-one-gets-hurt games.
Yet the Sixers found themselves trailing by 13 points early in the third quarter to one of the NBA's worst teams, the New York Knicks. Sparked by a 20-5 fourth-quarter run, they escaped with a 118-110 victory Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
"I think we let them score down [in the first three quarters]," Ben Simmons said. "We didn't enough stops early on, and we weren't playing our game. We weren't free flowing. It didn't seem natural to us.
"But once we got that back, I felt like we really picked it up. We started hitting shots, getting stops, and rebounding the ball."
Joel Embiid paced the Sixers (37-30) with 29 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Nineteen of his points came in the first half. The all-star center had his left hand taped during Thursday morning's shootaround and at the start of the game. However, he took the tape off in the first quarter.
"It's been feeling weird, lately," Embiid said of his hand. "But I don't think it's anything. I've been playing all right. So I don't think there's anything to worry about."
He added that the feeling had nothing to do with his falling several times in Tuesday's loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The Sixers had all five of their starters and sixth man Marco Belinelli score in double figures.
Simmons had 13 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for his second straight and eighth triple-double of the season. It was the second-highest total by a rookie in NBA history. Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson set the record with 26 for the Cincinnati Royals during the 1960-61 season.
"I try to not to get carried away with what people say," said Simmons, who passed Hall of Famer Magic Johnson's total of seven during the 1979-80 season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"People want me to be a scorer or a player that I'm not right now," he added. "I can score the ball. But I can also rebound and pass the ball. I'd rather do that and do what I'm pretty good at than force things."
He plans to work on his weaknesses in the summer. Simmons said right now he's working on being the best point guard he can be.
Dario Saric added 21 points and 12 rebounds. JJ Redick scored 18 points, with eight coming in the fourth quarter. Robert Covington had 15 points while making 5 of 7 three-pointers. Belinelli had 10 points and two steals.
Their performances enabled the sixth-place Sixers to pull within one game of the fifth-place Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference standings.
Meanwhile, the Knicks (24-45) extended their losing streak to nine games. This also marked their 17th loss in 18 games.
Early Thursday, there was a lot of intrigue surrounding Embiid's left hand. He had it taped up at the morning shootaround at Asphalt Green. He did not speak to reporters after the shootaround and coach Brett Brown was asked what was wrong with Embiid's wrist.
"I don't think anything," Brown said before spotting Embiid as he exited the gym. "I see that it's taped. I don't know. I see that it's taped, but I don't know that."
After the game, Embiid joked that his hand was taped to make a statement. "It was just swag," Embiid said. "I just wanted to look swaggy. So I thought it was a great look for me, some type of new swag. That's why I had it."
His hand didn't appear to bother him at the start, though. He scored 12 of his points in the first 6 minutes, 14 seconds.
Covington's three-pointer with 3:21 left gave the Sixers a 106-104 lead. It was their first advantage since leading 52-50 on a Covington three with 6:26 before intermission.
After Courtney Lee's basket knotted the score, the Sixers scored seven straight points. Embiid made a foul shot with 2:45 left. Redick's three-pointer with 2:17 left gave them a four-point cushion. Then Saric's three-pointer at the 1:58 mark made it a 113-106 game. That capped a defining 20-5 run by the Sixers.
They outscored the Knicks, 35-19, in the final quarter.