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Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid out-duelled two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic on Sunday, pouring in 47 points to lead the 76ers to a 126-119 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Embiid, who finished runner-up to Jokic in MVP voting the past two seasons, also grabbed 18 rebounds to help the Sixers erase a 15-point halftime deficit on the way to a seventh straight victory.
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Embiid, who also missed out on selection as an All-Star Game starter this week, insisted the clash wasn’t about a personal rivalry with Jokic, but about the 76ers testing themselves against the Western Conference’s top team.
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“It’s not a rivalry,” he told broadcaster ABC.
“I love the big fella, man. Two-time MVP, one of the best players in the league. I’m a big fan.
“(We) just wanted to come out here (against) the best team in the West, see where we’re at,” Embiid added.
“I think we’ve got a chance.”
As for missing out on All-Star selection, Embiid echoed suggestions from coach Doc Rivers that it may have more do with his popularity than work on the court.
“I was not surprised,” said Embiid.
“I think it’s well documented that I’m not well-liked. That’s cool. I don’t know if it’s because I troll a lot, or I guess I’m an a***hole, but it’s cool. I’ll keep being me, I’ll keep being an a***hole, and I’ll keep trolling.”
“If people don’t like it, that’s their problem,” he added.
“Like I said, it all goes back to winning. When you look at how many times I was an All-Star, they aren’t gonna see he was a starter this many times. Having been a starter for the last five years, it is kind of disrespectful. I don’t think anybody else had a better year than me. Like I said, you focus on the right things, and everything is going to go well for you.”
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The 76ers improved to 32-16, two games behind the league-leading Boston Celtics atop the Eastern Conference.
At 34-16, the Nuggets are two and a half games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies atop the West.
Embiid was everywhere in the second half, his step-back jumper knotting the score at 110-110 with 5:48 remaining.
After his block on Jamal Murray, Embiid scored on the fast break to put the 76ers up for good, and he drained a step-back three-pointer over Jokic that pushed Philadelphia’s lead to 125-117 with 30.1 seconds to play.
James Harden added 17 points and 13 assists while Tobias Harris and Georges Niang added 14 points apiece for Philadelphia.
Boomers and Sixers star Matisse Thybulle also played a pivotal role off the bench, with two points, two rebounds and more importantly three steals.
Matisse Thybulle made a big impact on the defensive end. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Source: Getty Images
Philly Voice writer Kyle Neubeck was full of praise for the Aussie’s defensive work against the Western Conference heavyweights.
“There were at least a couple of possessions that Thybulle snatched the game out of Denver’s hands, game-changing plays on a night where it was tough to create a miss for Philly,” Neubeck wrote.
“Really good minutes from him.”
Jokic led the Nuggets with 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
Jamal Murray added 22 points, but after building their big lead Denver couldn’t match Philadelphia’s energy in the third quarter and Embiid seized upon the opening.
76ers 126-119 Nuggets
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