Joel Embiid scores career-high 70 points in 76ers’ win over Spurs

Joel Embiid treated rookie Victor Wembanyama to the ultimate “welcome to the NBA” experience Monday night, scoring a career-high 70 points as the Philadelphia 76ers notched a 133-123 home victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

Embiid’s point total was the highest in the NBA this season — surpassing Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 64 points for the Milwaukee Bucks in a Dec. 13 win over the Indiana Pacers — and topped his previous high of 59, which came in a Nov. 13, 2022, win over the Utah Jazz. The two-time scoring champion also set the franchise single-game record, unseating Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain, who tallied 68 points against the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 16, 1967.

“It feels good,” the reigning MVP told NBA TV in a postgame interview. “Credit to all these guys — extremely unselfish people. I’ve got unselfish teammates, and they got me the ball. I was hot. They made sure they put me in the best position. Credit to the coaching staff, too.”

It was a night of total annihilation for Embiid, who added 18 rebounds and five assists while shooting 24 for 41 from the field, 1 for 2 on three-pointers and 21 for 23 from the foul line. The six-time all-star had 24 points in the first quarter, 34 by halftime and 59 through three quarters. Despite that onslaught, the Spurs were able to stay within shouting distance midway through the fourth quarter, allowing Embiid to check back in with roughly six minutes to play.

Embiid, who repeatedly pummeled San Antonio’s slender front line of Wembanyama, Jeremy Sochan and Zach Collins, reached 70 points on a transition layup with under two minutes to play. The 20-year-old Wembanyama, who was facing Embiid for the first time, finished with a team-high 33 points, seven rebounds and two assists, doing just enough to prevent a Philadelphia runaway in the second half.

“The big fella is amazing. He’s great,” Embiid said. “He’s up there already among the best players in the league. Obviously, a bright future. I wouldn’t sit here and lie to you [and say I didn’t think about beating him], but then again that’s my mind-set every game. It doesn’t really matter who’s in the building. My mind-set is to attack and dominate offensively and defensively. Tonight was no different.”

The 76ers pulled Embiid from the game with a 133-118 lead and 1:22 remaining, and the 7-foot center received a raucous standing ovation from the Wells Fargo Center crowd. After the final buzzer, Embiid exchanged pleasantries with Spurs assistant Brett Brown, his former 76ers coach.

“The time that it kind of hit me was the start of the third [quarter],” 76ers Coach Nick Nurse said. “[Embiid] had a bucket and an and-one in the first minute. He’s already got 37 or 38 — jeez, that’s a lot with a whole half to go. I was like, ‘This is going to be a big number tonight.’ He can score in so many ways, and his sheer size gets him a lot of stuff around the basket and a lot of free throws. The shooting touch and all that stuff is the skill part that makes it extra hard to stop him. We know the way he moves, how skilled he is and the size he is, when he gets motivated like that, anything can happen.”

Embiid became the ninth player in NBA history to score at least 70 points, joining Chamberlain (six times), Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard. Bryant was the only player to reach the threshold from 1995 to 2016, but the NBA’s pace-and-space era has seen four players — Booker, Mitchell, Lillard and Embiid — do it since 2017. Lillard, then a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, reached 70 points most recently in a Feb. 26, 2023, victory over the Houston Rockets.

“What [Chamberlain] was able to do was amazing,” Embiid said. “He’s got all the records. Any time someone beats his record, you must be doing something good. … To be in that class is great. It doesn’t really mean anything until you win the whole thing.”

Elsewhere Monday, Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns scored a career-high 62 points in a 128-125 home loss to the Charlotte Hornets to set the franchise record. The 28-year-old star had notched 60 points in a win over the Spurs on March 14, 2022.

Towns had 58 points through three quarters and seemed poised to join Embiid in the 70-point club, but Charlotte outscored Minnesota 36-18 in the fourth to claim a comeback win over the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed. With his team teetering against an overmatched opponent, Timberwolves Coach Chris Finch pulled Towns from the game for defensive purposes at multiple points during the closing stretch before bringing him back in for the final possessions.

Trailing by one point with 12.5 seconds left, Towns drove into traffic and appeared to draw a foul across his arm — only for the referees to allow play to continue. After Charlotte converted two free throws on the other end, Towns vented his frustration to an official and then missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.

“It was an absolute disgusting performance on defense and immature basketball,” Finch said of his team’s effort, adding that the Timberwolves lost focus and became too concerned with chasing shots. “There’s a lot of ways to be immature. We totally disrespected the game and ourselves, and we got exactly what we deserved.”

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