UNIONDALE, NY – Wow. Where to begin.
Why not with 14 minutes, 45 seconds.
That’s the amount of time Joel Embiid spent on the floor Wednesday at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island. Let the figure serve as the context for the rest of the the staggering stat line the big man unleashed in the 76ers’ dominant 133-114 pre-season win over the Brooklyn Nets.
22 points. 7 rebounds. 3 assists. 1 block.
All that, in just 14 minutes, 45 seconds.
Pretty amazing production in its own right, but an output that becomes that much more jaw-dropping considering Wednesday’s contest was Embiid’s first semblance of live game action since a January 27th match-up against the Houston Rockets.
Did he expect to be such a force right off the bat?
“I didn’t,” Embiid admitted afterwards, “but going back to the last couple of games i missed before that Houston game, that’s the type of player I want to be. I want to be consistent, and I want to help my team win. I didn’t expect [this], but I’ve been working hard all summer.”
Embiid shot 4 of 9 from the field, and got to the free throw line a whopping 18 times. 14 of his attempts were pure.
Brooklyn had absolutely no answer.
“It’s an accumulation, it’s a combination of all the things that we’ve spoken so much about Joel,” said Brett Brown. “He has a very unique and versatile skill package. The [size] we get. He can shoot a three, he can make free throws, he can post up, he can face up. It’s just a very sort of potent offensive package that people have to gameplan for, and we see the impact he makes on the defensive end. All over the place, something like tonight will remind us all.”
“It felt great,” Embiid said. “Coming back out, I just want to go out and give the team some energy, and just learn how to play with each other. We kind of learned one or two things tonight, and we’re going to keep on getting better, but it felt great. I’m glad I’m back.”
All eyes were going to be on Embiid regardless Wednesday. That he signed a five-year extension the day before only thickened the plot. He made sure that whenever he was on the court, no one could look away.
“I’m excited,” the Rookie of the Year said of his pre-season debut. “It’s been a long time coming. I had a great week, so it’s a lot of joy around me.”
Less than a minute into the first quarter, Embiid got on the board, draining a smooth elbow jumper. He corralled a couple boards before taking his first breather of the evening, at the 9:09 mark.
When Embiid returned with less than four minutes to go in the opening period, he really got going. He ripped off nine points before the stanza ended, helping the Sixers turn an early 10-point deficit into a 30-22 advantage.
The 23-year old’s third stint of the tilt started with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left in the second quarter, and his conditioning and stamina were enough to keep him out there for the duration of the half. A fadeaway, some free throws, a stepback, more foul shots, rebounds here and there.
Embiid went into the break with 20 points, a milestone he reached 19 times in 31 games last year. He logged 11 minutes, 28 seconds, and the Sixers were up 76-51.
The show wasn’t done yet. Embiid played the first three minutes and change of the third, a stretch in which he handed out all three of his assists, including a sweet feed to Ben Simmons for a dunk.
In his first game of any kind playing alongside Embiid, Simmons, who pitched in with 9 points (4-10 fg), 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and a pair of steals, said that having the center out there with him made things easier.
“He draws so much attention. No one can really stop him. He’s a beast out there.”
And in a flash of 14 minutes, 45 seconds, Embiid’s auspicious, dominant day was done.
Not to be overlooked Wednesday was Dario Saric’s stellar showing. Brown made sure it wasn’t.
“We’re going to talk a lot about Joel, and we should,” Brown said. “I hope the next question is about Dario.”
The assembled press corps obliged. Brown was effusive in his praise of the Croatian, who was back in form in just his second exhibition outing. He finished with a game-best 26 points (10-14 fg, 5-8 3fg), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a plus-25 rating, and competed with a contagious spirit that helped trigger a game-changing 40-15 run bridging the first and second quarters.
Being used as a reserve seemed to have no effect on Saric’s attitude or approach.
“That’s how he’s wired,” said Brown. “He’s an amazing teammate. He wants to win, and will fulfill a role or whatever it takes for us to go as a team, and find a way to win.”
“I think first game [in Boston] was like first game,” Saric said. “This game, I remember how it goes in NBA game. Sometimes you need this [type of] game before season. I hope I will have so many games like this during the season.”
While Embiid and Saric might have emerged as Wednesday’s headliners, the truth contained in the game’s final box score was that it was riddled with noteworthy performances.
JJ Redick, after resting Monday in Boston, was on point, nailing 5 of 10 shots, including 2 3-pointers. He netted 18 points, the Sixers outscoring Brooklyn by 20 when the veteran was in the fold.
Then, there was T.J. McConnell, his line in the sand clearly drawn, as Brown likes to say. Order, pace, and toughness accompanied his presence, as he went for 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists in 19 minutes of play.
“T.J., he finds a way to help us. He really finds a way to help us,” Brown said. “Everybody’s wondering where does he fit in when you start looking at the group. He has to be on a court during an NBA game for us, and he showed the reasons why tonight.”
After starting the preseason with three losses, Brown was pleased to see his club not only turn in a positive effort, but a collective one at that.
“They work just incredibly professionally,” said Brown. ‘I respect this room. They put in time. Tonight gave us something to be proud of. It validated, I think, the work that these guys put in. I do believe that it was a needed lift.”
Leading by as many as 36 points Wednesday, the Sixers shot 51.1 percent from the field, sinking 13 triples. They manufactured assists on 25 of their 46 baskets, while outrebounding the Nets by 15, 52-37.
Say no more, big fella.
The Sixers, on the heels of picking up their first pre-season win, will wrap up the 2017 exhibition slate with an appearance in Kansas City Friday. First, in preparation for a match-up with the Miami Heat, they’ll practice Thursday at Allen Fieldhouse, where Joel Embiid played his college ball.