PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid made his closing argument for MVP votes and all but wrapped up the NBA scoring title, scoring 41 points while adding 20 rebounds and four assists to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 133-120 victory Saturday over the Indiana Pacers.
Embiid shot 14 for 17 from the floor, went 11 of 15 from the foul line and made both his 3-point attempts in a game that Philadelphia (50-31) needed to win to remain alive in the hunt for the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It was the first time this season that an NBA player scored 40 or more points and had 20 or more rebounds in a game. It was the third time in Embiid’s career it has happened — with all three times coming against the Pacers.
“I’ve always said that every single night, I want to dominate,” Embiid said. “If you are dominating, things can show up in a lot of different ways — whether it is offensively or defensively. Sometimes, the numbers don’t show it. But it’s good, I guess.”
Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said: “It’s methodical and historical. Whatever the calls you want to put on it, it’s what’s he’s been.”
James Harden had 22 points and 14 assists for Philadelphia, who also got double-digit point performances from Tobias Harris (18), Tyrese Maxey (18) and Danny Green (15).
“We’re getting better,” Rivers said.
Oshae Brissett scored 20 points and Tyrese Haliburton had 19 for Indiana (25-56), which lost its ninth straight game. The Pacers fell behind by 21 points in the first half, then cut the deficit to five late in the third quarter before Embiid and Harden began to take control of the game.
“We haven’t seen a guy like this in the history of the league who has this kind of power and skill,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said of Embiid. “He’s able to score on all three levels effortlessly. He’s an amazing player and it will be interesting to see what teams do in the playoffs to try to slow him down.”
Embiid is now averaging 30.6 points for the season, which is just ahead of LeBron James’ 30.3-point-per-game clip for the Los Angeles Lakers and Kevin Durant’s 30.1 average for the Brooklyn Nets.
But neither James nor Durant will play enough games to qualify for the statistical title; in an 82-game season, 58 games played is the minimum. That means the scoring race comes down to Embiid and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who would need a miracle finish to grab the scoring crown. The last center to win a scoring title with a more than 30 ppg average was Bob McAdoo, who averaged 31.1 points in 1976-77.
Embiid also has been considered one of main contenders for league MVP, along with Antetokounmpo and Denver’s Nikola Jokic. Saturday’s game was Embiid’s 13th scoring 40 or more points.
The Sixers can move up to the third seed in the East and a first-round matchup with Chicago with a victory over Detroit on Sunday and a Boston loss at Memphis. Otherwise, Philadelphia will face Toronto in the 4-5 matchup in the first round of the postseason tournament.
Embiid said no decision was made about his playing status for Sunday night’s game, which takes place at the same time Boston faces Memphis.
“I want to, but at the same time it’s a back to back and we have to get ready for the playoffs,” Embiid said. “I want to play because we still need to work on my spacing and chemistry. Whatever we can get out of this last game, it will be good.”
Pacers: Indiana guard Malcolm Brogdon was ruled out with lower back soreness while Jalen Smith sat because of left groin soreness. Reserve forward Nate Hinton was ruled out for the final two games because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. “He’s in a van heading home,” coach Rick Carlisle said.
76ers: For the second straight game, Philadelphia inserted veteran guard Danny Green into the starting lineup in the spot normally held by top defender Matisse Thybulle. Thybulle may not be able to play in a possible first-round series in Toronto because of his COVID-19 vaccination status. Canadian rules forbid cross-border travel to anyone not vaccinated; Thybulle has not said publicly whether he is vaccinated. He missed Thursday night’s 119-114 road loss to the Raptors and was listed as “ineligible to play.” … Guard Georges Niang missed Saturday’s game with left knee soreness. Rivers said the move was precautionary. “If this was a playoff game, he would be in there,” the coach said in his pre-game meeting with the media.
Pacers: Play at Brooklyn on Sunday to finish their season.
76ers: Host Detroit on Sunday night in regular-season finale.