Joel Embiid does his ‘Bill Russell’ impression in 76ers’ win

PHILADELPHIA — When Joel Embiid missed shot after shot during Thursday’s first half against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Wells Fargo Center — eventually finishing 1-8 in the first quarter and 2-14 in the first half — he knew that if if it was to have its usual effect, it would have to be on defence.

“For me, as I always say, defense is more important than attack,” said Embiid. “Even tonight I couldn’t take any shots, especially the ones I usually take. But defensively, I thought I’d have to be Bill Russell tonight to somehow make up for it.”

Embiid’s final stat line — 27 points, 19 rebounds, 6 assists, a steal and 6 blocks in 38 minutes — was the kind of line the Boston Celtics legend would have been proud of, as Embiid and James Harden (31 points, 7 rebounds , 7 assists) helped push Philadelphia back from a 17-point deficit and beat the Grizzlies 110-105 in front of a sold-out crowd.

Despite falling behind for most of the game, Philadelphia was slowly but surely fighting back. And Embiid’s performance — on both ends — was emblematic of how the game has evolved for the 76ers as a whole.

Embiid’s 1-for-8 first quarter performance with at least as many tries was the worst he’s ever shot in a quarter in his career, while his 2-for-14 first-half performance was the best shots, he’s ever missed in one half of his NBA career.

But Embiid, who was off the injury report for the first time in several weeks after being repeatedly called questionable for left foot pain ahead of the All-Star break, dominated defensively. He grabbed 17 defensive rebounds, blocked those six shots — including a massive rejection of Ja Morant’s last spectacular dunk attempt — and changed several others.

“I try to be as good a defender as I can every night,” Embiid said. “But I think there’s a pattern with myself where if you look at most games where I have bad shooting nights I just can’t get the shots that I normally do. I go from good defensive play to amazing defensive play. That’s part of it. When you’re not contributing offensively, you need to find a way to make your teammates better. So defensively, just being a monster. It was a bit more of a focus on that ending tonight.”

In the end, however, it was a team effort. Desmond Bane went 7-for-8 in the first quarter and scored 19 points to help Memphis take a 37-22 lead after the first 12 minutes, but then blasted a combined 3-for-12 for six for the rest of the game Points. The electrifying Morant, one of the game’s top paint scorers, shot 3 for 16 that night despite hitting 9 for 10 from the free throw line and finishing with 15 points. Tobias Harris did an admirable job causing problems for Morant late in the game while scoring 20 points including an important late 3-pointer and a couple of free throws to end the game.

In the end, however, it was the combination of Harden and Embiid that raced through Memphis, with Embiid patrolling the paint and Harden scoring 13 points and assisting on five of the other seven baskets Philadelphia made in the fourth quarter.

“That’s part of it,” Harden said of Philadelphia’s ability to fight back into the game. “As much as you don’t want to, it’s part of basketball not to take shots. We were resilient and we fought and fought and fought and gave ourselves a chance.”

In a way, this is a microcosm of the ’76 season. After starting the year 1-4 and 12-12, Philadelphia (39-19) has gone 27-7 in their last 34 games and 14-3 in their last 17 games. That has allowed him to be within striking distance of the East- the leading Celtics, who host them on Saturday night, and the second-placed Milwaukee Bucks, both of whom have a two-loss lead over the 76ers overall.

With the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, rising above one or both of these teams is easier said than done, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. However, this will only be possible if Embiid continues to feel good physically. And the big man said he came out of the All-Star break much better and hopes to continue to do so in the future.

“I felt pretty good,” Embiid said. “As I said [All-Star break]whatever it is, it’s all about calm, and I’ve had a few [days off]. There’s a reason I wasn’t there [All-Star] Saturday because I wanted to make sure I got more rest.

“The point here is to get as much rest as possible. It would have been nice to actually get two weeks off, but it is [middle of the] season and you can’t have that so you have to come back and move on. The next time it happens, take a break and keep going.” Joel Embiid does his ‘Bill Russell’ impression in 76ers’ win

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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