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January 02, 2024

Instant observations: Joel Embiid posts triple-double in return as Sixers thrash Bulls

Joel Embiid returned to action Tuesday night, and the Sixers avenged Saturday's loss by blowing out the Chicago Bulls.

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Embiid 1.2.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid returned to action Tuesday night in emphatic fashion.

After splitting a four-game road trip, the Sixers returned home Tuesday for the first of three home games this week. Their first contest of the home-stand: a rematch against the Chicago Bulls, who beat the Sixers handily last Saturday night. The difference: Joel Embiid was available this time around. Here is what stood out from Embiid's return and an emphatic 110-97 Sixers win:

Embiid returns

Embiid missed the entire road trip, and the four-game absence costed him more time than he had missed in the entire season predating his ankle injury — just three games. Embiid was not even listed on the injury report before this game, though, and Sixers head coach Nick Nurse confirmed pregame that Embiid was not playing with any sort of minutes limit or restriction — perhaps these are signs that the Sixers were simply being as cautious as possible keeping him out during the road trip, and that this is not something worth worrying about in the long-term.

Something else worth noting: starting this season, players must log at least 65 games to be eligible for NBA awards. Tuesday night was Embiid's 26th game of the season, which means he must play in 39 of the team's remaining 49 games in order to be in the running for a second consecutive MVP award.

First Quarter

• The Sixers opened up the game on a heater, scoring 20 points in just the first 4:29 of play — including four triples on five attempts. In that period, all seven of their baskets were assisted. The most surprising part, though: Embiid scored the least of the Sixers' starters during that period. He had just two points, while Nic Batum and Tyrese Maxey each had three, Tobias Harris had five and Kelly Oubre Jr. had seven.

• So it turns out, that Sixers heater lasted entire first quarter. They finished the frame with a whopping 43 points, shooting 16-24 from the field and 7-11 from beyond the arc. Oubre led the team with 13 points on just five shot attempts. Embiid scored a (relatively) modest seven points, but also grabbed five rebounds and dished out just as many assists. It was an absolute clinic in offense basketball from the opening tip until the clock struck three zeros. 

• Not only were the Sixers shooting and scoring the lights out in the first quarter, but they also defended excellently, holding Chicago to 18 points in the first 12 minutes and building a 25-point lead. The Bulls were 0-10 from beyond the arc in the first period — not only a testament to their poor shooting, but also to the Sixers' active perimeter defense.

Second Quarter

• Due to the absences of De'Anthony Melton, Robert Covington and Furkan Korkmaz, Nurse opted to give some run to Jaden Springer, who had not seen extensive action in quite a long time. Springer gave his team solid minutes: he ripped a rebound away from rebounding extraordinaire Andre Drummond and then assisted on a dunk, drew an offensive foul, and had a very impressive block in transition during his first half stint. Springer even got a chance to guard Chicago star wing DeMar DeRozan.

• A microcosm of the Sixers' impressive depth on the defensive end: Chicago guard Coby White, who is in the midst of a career season, saw a massive amount of looks just the first half of this game: Batum opened up on him and guarded him across every inch of the 94-foot hardwood, Oubre handled him for one period of time, and Jaden Springer did as well briefly — this is all not including Patrick Beverley, who typically takes difficult guard assignments. Part of the identity of a Nurse-coached team is defensive versatility. The Sixers displayed plenty of that here.

• Embiid ended the first half with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists, dominating the Bulls both as a scorer and decision-maker. Additionally, he overcame being in foul trouble at the end of the first and second quarters and protected the rim well. If there were any concerns about rust or his performance declining in his return from injury, he made them vanish quickly.

Third Quarter

• Nic Batum did nothing outstanding in this game, but he still displayed why he is becoming an invaluable piece of this team. At every possible turn, Batum makes the right decision. He knows when to launch from three and when to make the extra pass. He knows when to pick up his man for 94 feet and when to gamble for a steal. On top of the value of his defense and three-point shooting is a heady passer who knows what to do in every key spot.

• Harris played a decent game in this one, but his third quarter was one to forget. He missed a pair of free throws, botched a layup and had a careless turnover. He has been playing better basketball as of late. But with the trade deadline nearly a month away, he needs to treat each game like an audition as he attempts to prove he should not be dealt.

• A funny moment to end the third quarter: with a triple-double within reach and his 30-point, 10-rebound streak in jeopardy, Embiid took it upon himself to accomplish both goals: he hit Harris for an open dunk to complete the triple-double, and then with just 1.3 seconds left on the game clock, he was able to draw a foul on Drummond, get to the line and give himself 31 points. His final line: 31, 15 rebounds and 10 assists.

Fourth Quarter

• This one was already over before the fourth quarter started, a game which gave the team's point differential a major boost. One of the pros of that: the Sixers got to rest their best guys while giving their deep bench pieces chances to shine. Embiid only played 31 minutes, and Maxey played just 29 minutes.

• The Sixers will face a tougher test Friday night when the new-look New York Knicks come to town, but all a team can do is beat whoever is in front of them. The Sixers did exactly that in this one.

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