PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid had 33 points and 12 rebounds in his first game in nearly a month, leading the Philadelphia 76ers past the Indiana Pacers 106-89 on Sunday.
Embiid returned to the lineup after being sidelined by a sore left knee. The Sixers went 4-4 without the All-Star center as they battle for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers moved into third place in the East with the win.
Embiid was greeted with a rousing standing ovation in his first game since he took a flying leap over actress Regina King on Feb. 13 in New York. Embiid hadn’t played since he was on the court for 23 minutes in the All-Star game, though the team has denied a link between playing in the game and his knee injury.
He showed the Sixers what they missed in his absence.
Early in the fourth, Embiid pump-faked from the top of the 3-point arc, drove the lane and was fouled as he tossed up a one-handed layup. Embiid extended his arms and pointed at himself, mouthing “I’m back” as Sixers fans went wild. He sank the free throw for an 83-74 lead and hit the bench to a standing ovation. Embiid cupped an ear toward the crowd, a signature move from former 76ers great Allen Iverson.
The Pacers missed their shot to knock the Sixers down to fifth in the East.
The Pacers missed 17 of 20 shots in the third and scored only 11 points while falling behind 72-70 after holding a 14-point lead. The Pacers went the final 6:55 of the third without scoring a basket and never got going in the fourth.
Bojan Bogdanovic led the Pacers with 18 points.
Embiid was out of basketball shape — conditioning has always been a factor for the 7-footer — and he was whistled for three fouls in his first 9 minutes of play. Embiid went wild when he was called for a foul on Domantas Sabonis’ drive to the basket in the first quarter. Sabonis appeared to drive the baseline untouched by Embiid and hit the court to toss up a shot. Embiid was called for the foul and was quickly banged for a technical foul for yelling at the referees.
Embiid was fatigued and frustrated in the first half — and the fans were fed up.
The Sixers were soundly booed off the court by 20,000 fans as they trudged into a timeout down 14 points in the second quarter. JJ Redick buried a 3 out of the timeout and Ben Simmons threw down a dunk to help get the crowd going again.
Sabonis gave the Pacers a big lift after he missed with five games with an ankle injury. Sabonis, one of the top reserves in the NBA, had five assists in the first half to help Indiana to a 59-51 lead.
Pacers: Tyreke Evans, a native of nearby, Chester, Pennsylvania, did not play because of an illness. … The Pacers wore their “Hickory” uniforms.
76ers: Embiid played with a Band-Aid on his right cheek. … The 11 points scored by Indiana in the third were fewest scored against 76ers in any quarter since New Orleans also had 11 in the third on Feb. 9, 2018.
Pacers: Return home to play New York on Tuesday.
Sixers: Host Cleveland on Tuesday.