The Philadelphia 76ers took sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference with a 123-117 home win over the short-handed Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center.
Philadelphia center Joel Embiid's 39 points and 13 rebounds led the 76ers, who saw their 22-point lead cut to three on three separate occasions late in the fourth quarter.
However, the 76ers responded with points on each of their ensuing possessions and knocked down enough free throws late for the win.
Tobias Harris' 26 points complemented Embiid's efforts. For the Nets, Kyrie Irving returned after a one-game absence due to personal reasons with a team-high 37 points and nine assists.
Brooklyn was without Kevin Durant (left hamstring, injury management), James Harden (right hamstring strain), LaMarcus Aldridge (illness) and Blake Griffin (left knee, injury management), among others.
Philadelphia improved to 38-17 after winning its third straight game. The 37-18 Nets sit one game behind the 76ers in the East standings.
Nets G Kyrie Irving: 37 points, 9 assists, 2 steals
Nets G Landry Shamet: 17 points
Nets C DeAndre Jordan: 12 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists
76ers C Joel Embiid: 39 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks
76ers F Tobias Harris: 26 points, 5 rebounds
76ers G Ben Simmons: 17 points, 9 assists, 3 steals
Embiid Puts on Clinic in Big 76ers Win
The NBA MVP candidate pulled out all of the tricks in his arsenal en route to dropping 39 points Wednesday.
He started early with a baseline fade over DeAndre Jordan:
The big man also went 3-of-6 from three-point range, including this one from the corner:
Embiid also got work done in the paint, driving past Jordan and throwing down a dunk with authority:
The former Kansas star was a burden to deal with all night for any of the Nets big men. Not all of Embiid's efforts ended with buckets, in part because the Nets sometimes had no choice but to foul him.
On this one, Embiid's power allowed him to muscle down Jeff Green en route to the free-throw line, where he finished 10-of-11 on the evening.
He returned to the key later in the third quarter after moving past Jordan and putting home a circus shot.
Embiid finished with 37 through three quarters en route to his game-high 39, and that effort has propelled Philadelphia into first place.
The 76ers are looking to earn their first No. 1 seed since 2001.
Kyrie Puts on Show, Nearly Wills Nets to Win
The short-handed Nets were severely outmatched on paper heading into their game against the nearly completely healthy 76ers, but Irving's four quarters of magic nearly put Brooklyn on top anyway.
The 76ers stood little chance in defending him. The 10-year veteran got going early, getting past Ben Simmons and finding Jordan for the dunk:
Irving dribbled between his legs, crossed over and spun to the hoop en route to finding space from Matisse Thybulle's defense and finishing for two:
Thybulle is an excellent defender in his own right, and he's eighth among qualified shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus, per ESPN.
The second-year pro did well enough on this ensuing possession to deflect the ball away from Irving, but once again, it was totally irrelevant.
Simmons and Embiid both tried to stop Irving on the same possession, but that didn't work out either:
Irving ended up posting 23 points and 7 assists by halftime, allowing the Nets to hang with the 76ers, who led 65-58 going into the break.
It was more of the same in the second half, with Irving getting by Thybulle for another bucket to keep the 76ers in sight:
Despite Irving's best effort, the Nets fell behind by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter, trailing 112-90 with 8:21 remaining. However, Irving's teammates took over from there, going on a 21-2 run to cut the 76ers' lead to three.
It wasn't meant to be, but Irving's sensational performance nearly helped Brooklyn pull off one of the most impressive wins in the Association this year.
Both teams will play at home Friday.
Brooklyn will host the Charlotte Hornets at 7:30 p.m. ET in Barclays Center. Philadelphia will welcome the Los Angeles Clippers into town at 7 p.m. ET.