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Joel Embiid’s Epic Performance Must Be Seen To Be Believed

10:27 AM EST on January 23, 2024

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JANUARY 22: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts after being showered with water after defeating the San Antonio Spurs at the Wells Fargo Center on January 22, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Embiid scored a franchise-record 70 points in the game.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images|

You gotta have ice water in your veins to throw passes like this.

Joel Embiid is having the best season of his career. He has often been unstoppable. On Monday night, though, he was on an even higher level. Joel Embiid had not just the greatest game of his career, but one of the best nights in 76ers history.

In a 133-123 win over the San Antonio Spurs, Embiid dished out five incredible assists that were crucial in getting the Sixers a big win. The performance was so amazing it’s worth looking at them in detail.

It was clear from the start that Embiid would need a special night if the Sixers were going to beat Victor Wembanyama and the Spurs. San Antonio jumped out to a 14-5 lead. But then Embiid got going. He received the ball at the free throw line and did a little head fake. This caused two Spurs defenders to collapse on him—but not too much, for fear he’d be able to drive to the rim for an easy dunk. That freed up Nic Batum in the corner for an easy three, and Embiid found his man. He was on the board, and the Sixers were on their way to getting on track.

I have heard the complaints about Joel Embiid online, and occasionally they are convincing. Yes, sometimes Embiid gets some breaks from the official, and that official (the scorer) sometimes credits him with an assist that came well after an Embiid pass. This is a borderline example of that, but I can see complaining about it if you’re a box-score purist. Still, good pass to Tyrese Maxey.

“You know how I learned to shoot?” Embiid told Sports Illustrated in 2016. “I watched white people. Just regular white people. They really put their elbow in and finish up top. You can find videos of them online.” You can find videos of us online; I modeled my shot after Aaron McKie’s, though, so maybe I should stay out of this. Still, the Internet is vast, and there are videos of all kinds of people throwing passes. And after seeing this pass here, it’s clear Embiid has also watched clips of guys like John Stockton and Magic Johnson. He’s clearly learned a lot.

The Spurs here are clearly worried about one of Embiid’s famous cross-court passes. When Joel gets the ball, three defenders converge to prevent him from hitting Furkan Korkmaz in the opposite corner. And credit where it's due: the Spurs did a great job on Korkmaz all night, and held him scoreless in 13 minutes. Unfortunately for San Antonio, that overcommitment left Danuel House wide open in the near corner for an easy three.

Embiid rounded things out with a simple dish in a 3-on-2. Again House was the beneficiary. The Sixers had begun to pull away by then, and the assist to House was a perfect capper to Embiid's night. And to House's—this was the biggest of the two field goals he scored in his 23 minutes.

All in all, an incredible performance. In addition to those 5 assists, Embiid had a block, 70 points, a steal, and 18 rebounds. We can only wait to see who Joel passes to next.

Joel holding up a piece of paper with "70" on it, fades to nothing, then fades to "5"
With apologies to Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE via Getty Images)

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