PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid said it was “great” to be put in the same conversation as Wilt Chamberlain after he became the ninth player in NBA history to score 70 points in an NBA game and broke Chamberlain’s franchise record of 68 points in the process.
“Obviously, Wilt accomplished … everything [in] the history of this league, and basketball in general,” Embiid said after his 70 points helped the Sixers beat the San Antonio Spurs 133-123 on Monday night. “So to be in the same conversation, that’s pretty cool.”
Embiid finished with 70 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists, a line that has never happened in NBA history before Monday’s game, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information.
“It was just a great night,” he said. “I had it going. I mentioned a few times, a lot of teammates are extremely unselfish and they just kept giving me the ball and I just finished it.”
Embiid finished it over and over and over again, to the tune of going 24-for-41 from the field and 21-for-23 from the foul line, eventually reaching 70 points when he went coast-to-coast for a layup over multiple defenders with 1:41 remaining.
He also had a season high 18 rebounds, 5 assists, one steal, one block and just one turnover in 36 minutes.
Embiid had 24 points in the first quarter, 34 in the first half and 59 — matching his prior career high, set last year here against the Utah Jazz — after three quarters, when he closed the third with a ridiculous stepback 3-pointer.
“The time that it kind of hit me, I thought, was the start of the third,” 76ers coach Nick Nurse said. “I think he had a bucket and an and-1, like in the first minute. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, he is already got like 37, 38, something like that.’ I was like, ‘Geez, that’s a lot, with a whole half to go.'”
At that point, with Philadelphia (29-13) up by 15 after three quarters, it was unclear if Embiid would get a chance to go for the record or if the 76ers, like they have several other times this season, would blow the game open in the fourth quarter and give Embiid the rest of the night off.
But San Antonio (8-35) hung in the game, led by 33 points and 7 rebounds from rookie phenom Victor Wembanyamaand the crowd at Wells Fargo Center launched into a standing ovation when Embiid checked back into the game with 6:38 remaining.
“The only thing I told my teammates was please just don’t force it,” Embiid said. “Let’s just play basketball. If I’m open, pass it, if I’m not, make sure you make the right play.”
He was instantly fouled on the first offensive possession he was back on the court for in the fourth quarter and made both free throws to set a new career high. Then he kept adding to his total as the final frame progressed. The crowd grew increasingly demanding for Embiid to shoot at every possible opportunity — to the point where reserve forward Danuel House Jr. was booed for taking an open corner 3.
“It’s unfortunate Danuel House got booed for [making the right play],” Embiid said with a smile. “We were just trying to play the right way and make the right plays. Obviously I made shots and they found me a lot.”
Eventually, Embiid tied Chamberlain’s record with 1:57 remaining on a pair of free throws. Then, after Philadelphia got a stop at the other end, he went coast-to-coast for the layup to get to 70 and was subbed out of the game a few seconds later.
Ultimately, it was just the latest in a series of incredible offensive performances from Embiid this season, as the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player remains on track to have the greatest scoring season in NBA history. Through 32 games, he has 1,156 points in 1,096 minutes; that pace of more than a point per minute played is something only Chamberlain has ever done in the history of the league.
Embiid, who is already coming off winning the NBA’s scoring title each of the past two seasons, is now averaging 36.1 points per game this season — a full three points better than what he posted last year in his first MVP-winning campaign.
“He’s great,” said Tyrese Maxeywho had 18 points and 8 assists. “I keep telling everybody, we cannot take this for granted. Not just as teammates, not as an organization, but as fans … even if you’re not a fan of Philadelphia, if you’re just a fan of basketball, you can’t take Jo for granted, man. What he’s doing right now is special.
“He’s not just doing it off layups, he’s not doing it off just 3’s. He’s doing it off every single thing. He’s making free throws. He’s doing so much out there. And you know, the kicker is he’s on the other end, he’s anchoring the defense as well. He’s not taking any nights off on defense. So, you know, we appreciate him, and everybody else should appreciate him, as well.”
One person who appreciated Embiid’s performance was Wembanyama, who was impressive in his first game against Embiid. He admitted afterward that playing against Embiid on Monday night was “inspiring.”
“A few years back, it was more of a guards game,” Wembanyama said. “But now, it’s come back to a big man’s game. I think it makes sense in terms of the game. We got guys, some guys all around the league who do a lot of stuff despite being very tall.
“It’s the way the game changes. Now, we got to adapt.”
Embiid has been adapting his game for years now and is playing better than ever. That was not only evident with him eclipsing 70 points — something he did without even warming up before Monday’s game, as he got to the arena late due to traffic — but because he felt he could have scored even more.
“I feel like when you take 40 shots, obviously, you are supposed to have a big night,” Embiid said. “I was actually mad at myself, because I missed a lot of easy shots that I’ve been making all season. A lot of easy pull-ups.
“But when you’re shooting that many shots, which I never thought I would be taking that many shots in my life, you’re obviously going to make some, and you’re going to have a big night.”