Joel Embiid scored 39 points and drained a superb game-winning jump shot with less than two seconds remaining as the Philadelphia 76ers completed a dramatic 120-119 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Sixers looked to be heading for defeat after trailing by 21 points in the second quarter, and were down by 13 with less than six minutes remaining in the final period.
But Embiid and James Harden spearheaded a late rally to haul the Sixers back into contention, shutting down the Portland offence while stitching together a run to make it a one-point game with 38 seconds remaining.
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And with the clock ticking down, Embiid spun away from the Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic to drain a fadeaway jumper to put the Sixers ahead 120-119, the first time Philadelphia had led during the game.
Embiid’s 39-points came on 13-of-20 shooting and was the latest in a series of dazzling performances by the Cameroonian star.
It was also Matisse Thybulle’s first game against his former team since being traded to Portland and the American-born Boomers star had plenty to say before the game.
“Any player that’s playing out of a place of fear is going to struggle,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Like there’s going to just be friction in everything you try to do. But when you play for a place of just discipline and receptiveness to what the game’s giving and what you are reading from it. I think there’s a lot more opportunity.
“And for me, specifically, I feel like there was a lot more fear-based play in Philadelphia as opposed to what I’m doing here in Portland.”
Thybulle had also said previously it was good to “feel and know” he was “wanted and needed” in Portland.
Some of those comments though did not seem to go down well with Embiid.
“I loved him when he was here,” said Embiid on Saturday.
“I kinda told him I kinda was not happy with some of the comments that was made lately, but it’s whatever.
“Playing in Philly is not easy. It’s a lot of pressure that comes with it. Every year, you’re expected to win. It doesn’t even matter if they believe that you have a good team or a good enough team to win a championship. That’s the expectations and that’s why there’s not a lot of people that can play here and survive here.
“… I wish him well. I still believe that he has a lot of potential and it’s all about him putting the work in and especially shooting and defensively, he’s a monster.”
Since the start of March, Embiid has averaged nearly 37 points a game, with tallies of 39, 39, 42, 31 and 35 over his last five appearances.
Embiid had scoring support from James Harden with 19 points, while Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton had 13 each.
Georges Niang added 12 points off the bench for the Sixers, who trailed 71-56 after a sluggish first half.
“We just couldn’t get going,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said.
“We looked like we were in mud in the first half, at both ends.
“That’s a hell of a win for us because we didn’t have a lot — and you could see it. But we just hung in there long enough, and we found a way.”
It was the third time this season that the Sixers, who are third in the Eastern Conference with a 44-22 record, have come back from being down by 20 points to win.
Portland meanwhile was left to reflect on a victory that slipped away at the end after a superb shooting performance from Anfernee Simons, who finished with 34 points on 13-of-22 shooting, including eight three-pointers.
Jerami Grant added 24 points and Damian Lillard had 22.
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‘HE’S LUCKY’: STAR’S WARNING AFTER FIERY SCUFFLE
Elsewhere, the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets suffered a second straight defeat in a 128-120 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Texas.
The Nuggets, who were beaten 117-96 by lowly Chicago on Wednesday, looked to have put that defeat behind them after outscoring the Spurs 38-26 in the first quarter.
But San Antonio roared back with a 42-point second quarter and outscored Denver 60-53 in the second half to seal a surprise win.
Keldon Johnson led the Spurs scorers with 23 points, with six other San Antonio players finishing in double figures.
Denver’s reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic recorded a 37-point triple-double — his 26th of the season.
Frustrations later boiled over as Spurs center Zach Collins and Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. were tossed from the game after clashing in a fiery melee.
It came after Porter Jr. threw down a dunk on Collins.
“I think it was pretty clear, what happened. He got dunked on. My back was turned towards him, you know what I mean? Man, get in my face,” Porter said, per Vic Lombardi of Altitude TV.
“They said I put my hand on his neck. But that’s a natural reaction. He’s lucky he didn’t get hit being in my face like that. That’s a split-second reaction,” Porter added.
Despite the loss, Denver remains firmly on pace for top seeding in the Western Conference playoffs, leading second-placed Sacramento by six games with a 46-21 record.
In Miami, Jimmy Butler led a fourth-quarter rally to help the Heat claim a 119-115 win over Cleveland despite a 42-point showing from the Cavaliers’ Donovan Mitchell.
Miami outscored the Cavs 37-26 in the final frame, with Butler scoring 12 points as part of a 33-point display to get the Heat over the line.
Elsewhere, Brooklyn downed the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-123 in overtime while the Atlanta Hawks claimed a 114-107 road win over the Washington Wizards.