NEW YORK — Then a Joel Embiid The tip-in put the Philadelphia 76ers up 14 less than five minutes into Sunday afternoon as the superstar center raised his arms above his head and soaked in the boos of the partisan crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Thanks to dominant performances by Embiid (35 points and eight rebounds) and co James Harden (29 points and 13 assists, didn’t check out in the second half) Philadelphia successfully returned to the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule after a one-year hiatus with a 119-112 victory over the New York Knicks.
“It feels good,” Embiid said. “It’s a blessing to be here. There’s not a lot of teams, not a lot of guys that get these opportunities.”
There aren’t a lot of teams that have a pair of guys like Embiid and Harden.
Sunday’s game — the first of five games played on the marquee day of the regular-season calendar — was a reminder that star power can make a difference in the NBA. Despite the Sixers’ slow start to the season, Embiid and Harden have started to find a groove together over the past few weeks, helping the 76ers win their eighth straight game.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers said before the game that usually a team adjusts well to an afternoon start, and he hoped his would be the case. But the Knicks dominated from almost every standpoint in the first quarter Julius RandleHe scored 25 of his 35 points in the first half.
“You never know how these afternoon games are going to go,” Rivers said afterward. “I thought in their first quarter, they had all the energy and they killed us the whole first half of the glass. I thought they did everything quickly.”
But despite that, the 76ers trailed by just three at halftime — thanks, in part, to a half-court heave. Shake Milton Bank from that mirror.
Knicks icons Carmelo Anthony and Bernard King — who scored the most points (60) on Christmas Day — sat side-by-side on the baseline across from Philadelphia’s bench, watching Embiid perform. Pulled his 76 back into the game.
“That’s the difference, I tell you,” Rivers said. “The second half was the second half. But because Joel came out late in the second quarter and was aggressive, it changed the game. Changed the tempo of the game.”
Embiid scored 11 of his 35 points in the second quarter, helping Philadelphia close the gap after trailing by 14 points in the first half, and scored another 15 in the third quarter. .
Then it was Harden’s turn and he finished fourth Georges Niang Harden had six points and five assists in a two-man game, Niang hit four triples, and the pair combined to outscore the Knicks 18-16.
“We found something,” Horton said. “We found something we liked and then we tried to get the best shot.
“Georges got a couple easy looks and I told him to take his time. He made one, he made two, and it opened up the game for us.”
Philadelphia’s 1-4 start feels like a lifetime ago now. Since starting five games, the 76ers are the NBA’s second-best defensive team, and they have the third-best net rating, outscoring teams by more than five points per 100 possessions. Regardless of who wins Sunday’s battle between the Celtics and the Bucks (the top two in the East), Philadelphia will be two games behind the East leader and one back of second.
“We’re getting there,” Harden said. “But we’ve got to take it one game at a time and continue to get better. I think we’re improving and improving on both ends of the ball, which will lead to where we want to go in the season. Going forward, we’re definitely going in the right direction and we’re going to be a very tough team to beat.”
Sixers guard Tires Maxi On Sunday he was sidelined with a broken leg that has kept him out since mid-November, although he could be back soon. Also on the injury front, the Knicks guard Jalen Brunson Left the game in the second half after clutching his right hip.
New York declined to make Brunson available after the game and did not release details about the injury.