Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey Lead 76ers Past Nets Despite Big Nights from Durant, Harden

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 31, 2021

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid looks to drive against Brooklyn Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge (21) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Kevin Durant made his return to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night for the first time in two weeks. Joel Embiid spoiled the party.

Unlike the last time Durant was on the court, the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Nets 110-102, led by huge performances from Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.


Coming off of back-to-back 30+ point games, Joel Embiid is in a groove with 16 points in the 1st quarter for the <a href="https://twitter.com/sixers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@sixers</a> on <a href="https://twitter.com/NBATV?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NBATV</a> ! <a href="https://t.co/HCJto7eVpJ">pic.twitter.com/HCJto7eVpJ</a>


When your center can do a step-back 3 🙌<br><br>Joel Embiid has 22 PTS at the half on <a href="https://twitter.com/NBATV?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NBATV</a> !<a href="https://twitter.com/sixers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@sixers</a>: 55<a href="https://twitter.com/BrooklynNets?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BrooklynNets</a>: 54 <a href="https://t.co/CECu0ApBgj">pic.twitter.com/CECu0ApBgj</a>

Lauren Rosen @LaurenMRosen

.<a href="https://twitter.com/TyreseMaxey?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TyreseMaxey</a> on tonight's big win over Brooklyn, (and on <a href="https://twitter.com/JoelEmbiid?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JoelEmbiid</a>'s challenge from last game):<br><br>"Last game, Joel told me I was trash... I told him I got him this game. <br><br>So I just went out here, and tried my hardest for my teammates."<br><br>🤣🥺

That spoiled a big night from Durant, who did everything he could to get the win but fell just short, and James Harden's triple-double.


Kevin Durant's mid-range is so tough...<br><br>The <a href="https://twitter.com/BrooklynNets?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BrooklynNets</a> lead the 76ers by one on <a href="https://twitter.com/NBATV?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NBATV</a>! <a href="https://t.co/s8pcKVsWBh">pic.twitter.com/s8pcKVsWBh</a>


Kevin Durant 🎯<br><br>Back to back three-pointers for Kevin Durant (25 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST)!<br><br>Watch Here: <a href="https://t.co/wVIrg3a7TL">https://t.co/wVIrg3a7TL</a> <a href="https://t.co/2f6p3pGY44">pic.twitter.com/2f6p3pGY44</a>

During Durant's absence—he last played in a 114-105 win over the Sixers on Dec. 16—the Nets went 2-1 and had three games postponed on account of COVID-19. And it sure looked as though the 23-10 Nets would pick up a third straight win Thursday, too.

But Embiid, Maxey and the 19-16 Sixers had other ideas, pulling away from Brooklyn late in the fourth quarter. Things even got a bit chippy between the teams down the stretch, a carryover from the last matchup.

John Clark @JClarkNBCS

Joel Embiid getting last laugh with Kevin Durant at least for tonight!<br><br>Telling KD “Go home!” 😂<br><br>34 points for Joel Embiid<br><br>He is averaging over 36+ points over last 7 road games. Sixers have won 6 of 7 on the road <a href="https://t.co/pNEA9B7P4R">pic.twitter.com/pNEA9B7P4R</a>

Rich Hofmann @rich_hofmann

Joel Embiid was telling Kevin Durant to get out and go home, just as Kevin Durant told the Sixers a few weeks ago.<br><br>That's a really nice win for the Sixers. Embiid and Maxey were huge. They are 19-16 on the season. Dan Burke undefeated as Sixers head coach.

It was a statement win for a Sixers team that was without head coach Doc Rivers (health and safety protocols).

Key Stats

Joel Embiid, PHI: 34 points, seven rebounds

Tyrese Maxey, PHI: 25 points, seven rebounds

Tobias Harris, PHI: Nine points, 4-of-14 from the field

Kevin Durant, BRK: 33 points, six rebounds

James Harden, BRK: 33 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists

LaMarcus Aldridge, BRK: 12 points, eight rebounds

You Didn't Actually Think Durant Would Be Rusty, Did You?

We're talking about the greatest scorer alive, people. Of course he was going to return with a bang. 

The Nets have been hit hard by COVID-19 this season. The Kyrie Irving situation has left them down a star player and certainly added a bizarre flavor to their campaign. And through it all, they keep on winning, and Durant keeps on scoring. 

There are a lot of worthy MVP candidates to this point in the season. Durant is undoubtedly one of them.

Imagine Embiid with More Help

The Sixers have some solid role players. Curry is a great shooter. Danny Green is a nice two-way player. Matisse Thybulle is one of the NBA's best defenders. Maxey showed yet again on Thursday he is oozing potential. Tobias Harris is overpaid and performed poorly Thursday night, but he'd be a solid third scorer on a contender. 

Jawn Gonzalez @JohnGonzalez

Tobias Harris has not been good this year but at least no one wants his contract

Michael Levin @Michael_Levin

Embiid missing the first 2 years of his career is nothing compared to the years he’s lost watching Tobias methodically dribble into contested late clock 17-footers off the front rim

The issue is that Embiid doesn't have a star running mate, and it's shown all season long. By now it's pretty clear that player is never going to be Ben Simmons, who may never play again for the Sixers anyway. 

Embiid can get this group into the postseason. He's a genuine MVP candidate. He's awesome, and the Nets had no answers for him Thursday.

Keith Smith @KeithSmithNBA

Embiid just beasted Claxton and Aldridge to seal this one.

But imagine him with a true star running mate. Imagine players like Harris, Maxey and Curry being allowed to be role players rather than needing to rotate as the team's second scorer each night. It's a scary thought for the rest of the Eastern Conference if it ever happens. It's a terrifying thought for Sixers fans if it doesn't.

What's Next?

The Nets will host the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Sixers are off until Monday when they'll host the Houston Rockets at 7 p.m. ET.