INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Joel Embiid showed again Tuesday night why he believes he deserves this season’s MVP Award.
It prompted teammates, coaches and even former teammates to make the case, too.
The five-time All-Star had 45 points and 13 rebounds, and helped open things up for his Philadelphia teammates to make a franchise-record 17 3-pointers in the first half of a 131-122 victory over the Indiana Pacers that moved the 76ers into a tie with Boston atop the Atlantic Division.
“They made a concerted effort to trap him on the catch and Joel did the right thing by throwing it out,” coach Doc Rivers said. “The first half was phenomenal. It shows how explosivee we can be. The ball was moving and Joel was dominant.”
Embiid played so well he’s now in position to become the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the league’s scoring title and he’s the first player since Russell Westbrook in 2016-17 to post 12 games with 40 or more points and 10 or more rebounds.
And on Tuesday, it wasn’t just the numbers.
He gave Philadelphia the lead on a banked-in 3-pointer to end the first quarter — a shot that gave Philadelphia the lead for good and spurred a 49-point second quarter.
The Pacers never fully recovered from Embiid’s early onslaught. By halftime, he had 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting with seven rebounds.
“He’s just incredible,” Pacers guard T.J. McCollum said, referring to his former teammate in Philly. “He’s putting his back to the basket and punishing guys and he’s passing whenever he’s doubled and he’s stepping out and making 3s. It’s incredible to watch.”
Buddy Hield scored 25 points and Tyrese Haliburton had 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists for Indiana, which has lost a season-worst eight straight.
The 76ers, meanwhile, continued to build momentum for a playoff push that begins next week, largely on the shoulders of Emiiid.
And they did nothing to disappoint Tuesday.
Tyrese Maxey made a career-high eight 3s, seven in the first half, and had 30 points for the 76ers. James Harden had 11 points and 14 assists.
Indiana managed to cut the deficit to 111-106 with 9:19 left to play. But Philadelphia answered with a 10-3 run to put it away.
“We played very well in the first half but we’ve got better at the finish,” Embiid said. “We’ve just got to talk to each other and play with the same intensity we did in the first half.”
76ers: DeAndre Jordan was ejected for a flagrant foul with 9:19 left in the game. … Maxey also had seven assists. … Tobias Harris finished with 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. … Philadelphia lost its only previous meeting this season against Indiana. The two teams meet for the third and final time this season Saturday.
Pacers: Indiana finished this season with a 16-25 record at home, its second straight sub-.500 mark after 31 straight seasons of posting winning records at home. … Hield had 11 rebounds while Jalen Smith finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. … Rookie Isaiah Jackson had 16 points and four blocks. … Fan favorite Lance Stephenson had 10 points in what could be his final home game in Indy. …
McConnell returned to action Tuesday, marking his first appearance in a game since Dec. 1. McConnell missed 54 games with ligament damage in his right wrist and made it back against his former team. He had two points, four rebound and five assists.
“I wanted to come out and forge an identity with the new guys and what better way to forge that identity than coming back to play,” McConnell said.
“I thought we took our foot off the gas in the second half,” Harris said. “It’s a good win but we have to be better to get to the level we want to get to.”
76ers: Visit Toronto on Thursday before closing out the regular season with two home games.