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October 29, 2023

Sixers game notes: Joel Embiid dominates in win over Portland

Joel Embiid went off for 35 points in the Sixers' home-opening win over the Portland Trailblazers. Adam Aaronson shares his game notes.

Basketball Sixers
Joel Embiid. Bill Streicher/for PhillyVoice

The Sixers played host to the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday night in the team's home opener, looking to sweep its first back-to-back after winning on Saturday night in Toronto.

James Harden update

Harden spent the day with the team in its walkthrough and shootaround, head coach Nick Nurse confirmed pregame. Harden continues to ramp up his conditioning and could see on-court action soon.

"All signs are positive conditioning-wise," Nurse said.

Joel Embiid's status was unclear... and then he dominated

Embiid was listed as questionable before the game with "rest" as his injury designation. After a game and late flight on Saturday, the Sixers considered giving the reigning NBA MVP the night off. Ultimately, though, Embiid played. It was always hard to imagine him resting for the home opener.

Embiid did not look like a player who had contemplated sitting out. He completely obliterated Portland's defense, putting up 24 points in the first half alone. He finished the night with 35 points to go with 15 rebounds. Embiid was also able to counter the Blazers' double-teams with crisp passes, for the second night in a row consistently making good reads and finding his teammates. Once again, he frequently found Tyrese Maxey for good looks from three-point range. He finished with seven assists.

Additionally, Embiid had his best game of the young season on the defensive end, swatting six shots and looking spry.

An old friend returns

Former Sixer Matisse Thybulle returned tonight for his second game in Philadelphia as a visitor. Thybulle, fresh off signing a four-year contract in restricted free agency, is in Portland's starting lineup and figures to be a noteworthy part of their rebuild.

"I love coaching 'Tisse," Portland head coach Chauncey Billups said.

Bench struggles, but one player does the little things

On a night in which none of their bench players did anything eye-popping, Patrick Beverley did the little stuff — mostly on the defensive end, he was his typical self: a pest, simply making everything a little more difficult for Portland's guards, whose efficiency was down.

It wasn't a good night for the rest of Nurse's reserves. Kelly Oubre Jr. struggled from the field, failing to knock down some awfully good looks. Paul Reed struggled off the bench, with the Sixers being clearly outplayed when Embiid was off the floor. Jaden Springer, back in the rotation, had a jaw-dropping block immediately upon entering the game, but then committed four quick fouls and needed to be pulled. Danuel House Jr. was the second wing off the bench, not Danny Green, and failed to make any plays of note.

Tobias Harris shines

Harris has quietly had an excellent beginning to the 2023-24 season, and once again tonight he was extremely efficient, scoring 24 points on 8-11 shooting.

Harris has had good stretches like this before, of course, but it's noteworthy how he's succeeding right now: a lot of it is coming from self-creation, where he often fails to impress. If he can continue to generate his own looks and convert them at a high rate, the Sixers' offense would become a lot more difficult to defend.

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