PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid tied his career high with 50 points in just 27 minutes, leading a dominant third quarter that carried the Philadelphia 76ers to a 123-110 victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
Embiid also had 12 rebounds and three blocks while making 17 of 23 field goals and 15 of 17 free throws. The four-time All-Star and MVP candidate played just 58 seconds of the fourth quarter.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Embiid’s total in that time span was the second-fewest minutes played in a 50-point game in the shot-clock era. Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson had 52 points on Oct. 29, 2018 in 26:33 of game time.
Tobias Harris added 21 points for the 76ers, who have won nine of 11. Philadelphia began play sixth in the East but just 2½ games out of the top spot.
Mo Bamba set career highs with 32 points and seven 3-pointers for Orlando. The rebuilding Magic dropped to an NBA-worst 8-38 with their third straight loss and 13th defeat in the last 14 games.
Philadelphia was booed off the court at halftime, trailing 57-47. But the 76ers came out determined after the break, using a 17-6 run over the first 5:05 to jump in front, 64-63. Embiid finally got some help from his teammates during the spurt, as Tyrese Maxey drained a pair of 3-pointers.
Before the game, 76ers coach was asked about potential additions to the roster with the NBA trade deadline approaching, and he was up front and honest. Then, his best player went out and gave any potential new teammates a glimpse of what they may join.
“You need playmakers in the playoffs, you just do,” Rivers said. “You need guys who are going to make plays for themselves and others. And the more you have, the better team you have, the better chance you have.”
Embiid, who entered averaging 27.3 points, took care of that on his own Wednesday. He scored in a variety of ways in a breathtaking third quarter that matched his similarly stellar first quarter. He was serenaded with “MVP! MVP!” chants on two trips to the free throw line in the period, and brought the fans roaring to their feet when he made a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the quarter that gave Philadelphia its largest lead to that point, 92-80.
It gave Embiid 47 points for the game and 23 in the third quarter alone in which he shot 8 of 10. The star center opened the contest by draining 8 of 10 shots in a 20-point first quarter that helped the 76ers to a 25-21 advantage.
“I played with (Basketball Hall of Famer) Dominque (Wilkins), and I don’t know if I’ve seen that. I’ve seen Dominque score more, but it took the whole game,” Rivers said. “That was easy, quick, efficient and determined.”
Jesse Mermuys, Orlando’s acting head coach who is filling in while Jamahl Mosley remains in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, concurred.
“With the way he was playing, there was really no way to go get him,” Mermuys said. “He hit fadeaways, stepbacks, I mean, he was impressive.”
Embiid re-entered with 7:23 left in the fourth and quickly got to 49 points with a pair of free throws 15 seconds later. Then, Embiid was fouled by Mamba, who fouled out on the play, with 6:26 left. With the crowd standing and recording the moment on cell phones, he made the first to reach 50 points before misfiring on the second free throw. Coach Doc Rivers quickly subbed him out to loud cheers.
Embiid was dominant in the first quarter but the rest of the 76ers combined for just five points on 2-for-11 shooting. And it caught up to them in the second quarter. The Magic closed within 38-37 while Embiid rested for the first 5:20 of the period, then scored 11 of the final 14 points to open a 10-point advantage after he went to the bench with three fouls with 3:07 remaining.
“It was a heck of a performance by him. You have to tip your hat. In this league, there are great players who have great performances.”
Bamba finished with 28 points and made 7 of 8 3-pointers in the opening half, easily bettering his previous career highs in scoring (22 points) and made 3-pointers (5).
But in the end, the night belonged to Embiid.
“He was unbelievable,” Rivers said, “from the start.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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