SAN ANTONIO — James Harden practically pushed Joel Embiid off the floor and to the 76ers’ bench after the big man had fallen to the floor attempting to save an offensive rebound and his team up by a comfortable margin in the waning minutes.
Embiid had done more than enough, tallying 33 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists to lead the Sixers to a 137-125 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at the AT&T Center.
It was the Sixers’ ninth win in their last 10 games to push their record to 34-17 and the Spurs’ eighth loss in a row. Yet San Antonio hung around for much of the contest — and forced Doc Rivers to reinsert his starters after he had gone deep into his bench — because of their 58.4% field-goal shooting, even on a night when the Sixers connected on 52.9% of their shots, including 13 of 27 from 3-point range.
Embiid, fresh off being named to his sixth consecutive All-Star team, went 10 of 18 from the floor and 11 of 13 from the free-throw line. Teammate Tyrese Maxey, meanwhile, rebounded from a tough shooting performance during Wednesday’s victory over the Orlando Magic to score 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor.
The decisive push by the Sixers came at the end of the third quarter. After a Zach Collins finish inside got the Spurs within 94-85, the Sixers answered with a 12-2 run capped by a Georges Niang corner 3-pointer. That advantage eventually extended to 23 points on a pair of free throws by Shake Milton early in the fourth. San Antonio never got closer than 10 after that.
The Sixers initially created distance in the second quarter, when they exploded for 47 points and led by as many as 17. Embiid scored 11 of his points during the period’s final six minutes, including a one-handed alley-oop finish off a high-arcing pass from James Harden.
The Sixers next play two consecutive road games, starting Sunday at the New York Knicks followed by Wednesday at the Boston Celtics.
The Sixers’ second unit finished with 67 points and was instrumental in taking control before halftime and in stretching the lead following the break.
Those reserves helped provide an initial burst, scoring 34 first-half points. Thirteen of those during that stretch came from Maxey, who went 3 of 6 from the floor but was aggressive in drawing fouls and went 6 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Rivers also went with an all-bench look in the second half, with repeat success. Bench players scored every point in the Sixers’ spurt to end the third quarter.
Milton finished with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while Niang had 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting from long range.
Rivers went started to empty his bench about midway through the fourth quarter, subbing in Paul Reed and Danuel House Jr. But that attempt at giving starters extra rest was short-lived, as Embiid, Harden, and Harris returned when that lead dwindled to 10 points with about five minutes to play.
Harden uneven following All-Star snub
In his first game since his All-Star snub, Harden finished with 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting and eight assists.
He started 2 of 6 from the floor, before a 3-pointer from the top that pushed the Sixers’ lead to 85-71 and prompted a Spurs timeout. Then with about four minutes remaining in the fourth, Harden buried a step-back 3 at the end of the shot clock to give his team a 128-112 advantage. About a minute later, he drew a foul outside the 3-point arc and went 2 of 3 from the stripe.
He also shouldered a brief injury scare, when he appeared to injure his arm when he fell to the floor on a driving finish late in the second quarter. After Maxey helped him up, Harden walked straight through the tunnel that led to the visitors’ locker room.