Joel Embiid's stellar showing against the Boston Celtics led Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers to declare the MVP race "over".

Embiid is a likely contender, alongside Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, for the NBA's MVP award.

But with just five days of the regular season remaining, the Sixers star made an almighty push for the gong with a remarkable display against the Celtics.

Embiid scored 52 points, over half of Philadelphia's total in a 103-101 victory on Tuesday, while adding 13 rebounds and six assists.

The 29-year-old is the first player in the stop-clock era to score more than half of his team's points and shoot 80 per cent from the field.

Wilt Chamberlain, meanwhile, was the only other player to have previously shot 80 per cent from the field and record at least 50 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

For Rivers, it means job done in the MVP race.

"The man just scored half our points, in an NBA game," Rivers said. 

"I'm biased, but the MVP race is over.

"We did so many things wrong, but what we did right was Joel Embiid."

Embiid's team-mate James Harden echoed Rivers' sentiment, adding: "Joel should win it.

"He's been in contention for it the last few years. He led the league in scoring last year. It looks like he's going to lead the league in scoring this year.

"We're the third seed in the East. He's been consistent all year."

When the comments of Rivers and Harden were put to him, Embiid quipped: "They're probably right, but we got bigger goals.

"We understand we got a chance, but it's not going to be easy. For me, it was kind of disappointing because we found so many ways to lose the game, and that's on all of us.

"I'm part of it. I could've been better. You know, I had a couple of dumb plays. I could've been better, and we could've been better as a team.

"Like I said, we got bigger goals in mind, but we got to be better than that."

As for how to stop Embiid, who is second in the NBA for points this season (2,162) and leads the way for points per game (33.3), Celtics guard Derrick White is non-plussed.

"I think the whole league's trying to figure that out right now," said White. "So, if you got any ideas, I think every other NBA team would like to know."

Nikola Jokic believes his main rival for a third-straight NBA MVP award, Joel Embiid, will "be remembered as one of the most dominant players in the league."

The clash between the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers had been billed as the league's two leading players facing off, only for the Sixers to rest Embiid due to a calf injury.

Jokic led Denver to a 116-111 victory on Monday, scoring 25 points with 17 rebounds and 12 assists, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to produce 10 games of at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in the same season.

With James Harden also out, Tyrese Maxey led Philadelphia with 29 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals, but the main talking point after the game remained Embiid, with Jokic reserving words of praise for his rival.

"I think he's a great player," he said. "I think he's gonna be remembered as one of the most dominant players in the league. The guy's a beast, and he's so talented.

"He can affect [the game] many ways on the floor. He can post up, he can face up, he can shoot threes. He can defend really well. He can, in some situations, guard one through five. So he's a really, really good player."

Embiid leads the league for points-per-game this season (33.3), ahead of Luka Doncic (32.9), Damian Lillard (32.2), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31.3) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (31.1).

Sixers coach Doc Rivers said prior to the game he was tired of the animosity brought about by the debate around this year's MVP award, with Jokic having won it the last two seasons and having had another stellar year for the Nuggets.

"It's like we can't celebrate people," Rivers said. "The league is in a great place. It's in an amazing place.

"You've got Joel Embiid and Joker, two centers, in a non-center league, dominating the league. You've got Giannis, and I always put him as a whatever, because we don't know what [position] Giannis is, but he's one of the best players in the league. Jayson Tatum is playing unbelievable. Kevin Durant, if he wasn't hurt. You can just keep going.

"You can like them all, and you can actually not like one because you love the other one. But you don't have to hate on anybody. I think we just need to get back to judging whatever your flavour is, and I don't think you have to hate the other one, for sure."

Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff was not happy with the decision to allow Joel Embiid to stay on the court as the man widely tipped to win this season's NBA MVP award led the Philadelphia 76ers to their sixth-straight victory.

Embiid ended the night with 36 points and 18 rebounds as the Sixers won 118-109, but the controversy arrived in the fourth-quarter when he appeared to have committed his sixth foul of the game.

With just over four minutes remaining, Embiid was called for charging Evan Mobley, but Sixers coach Doc Rivers challenged the call, seeing it successfully overturned on review.

"It's clear as day that's a charge," Bickerstaff said after the game. "There's no doubt about it. The call was made on the floor.

"He stands between him and the basket. Evan laid it all out on the line. Guys ought to be rewarded for that. If you stick your nose in there and sacrifice your body, you should be rewarded for the correct play."

He added: "They said there wasn't enough contact to be a charge. I mean, there's a 300-pound man who bowls through your chest, it's a charge. It's that simple."

Rivers still believed the overturn was the right call after his team secured the win, saying he thought Mobley had gone down too easily.

"I thought he flopped," Rivers said of Mobley. "I called that one right away. I didn't even look at my [replay] guy. I thought there was a good chance they would overturn it. I didn't think they would foul Joel out on that."

Embiid agreed, saying: "I thought it was a good call [to overturn]. I never extended my arm. Right before the hit, you could see he was already starting to flop.

"I watch basketball every day and I was pretty confident they would call it the other way."

The Sixers (46-22) remain third in the Eastern Conference, one spot ahead of the Cavs (44-28).

Joel Embiid was hailed as the "MVP" and "big-time player" after holding his nerve to snatch a last-gasp victory for the Philadelphia 76ers over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Embiid landed the decisive basket with 1.1 seconds to go at Wells Fargo Center on Friday, securing a 120-119 triumph.

There were chants of 'MVP' from the crowd for the six-time NBA All-Star, who scored 39 points as the Sixers rallied from 21 points down in the first half to take their record for the season to 44-22.

James Harden, who finished with 19 points, said of his team-mate Embiid's game-winning moment: "Something that he works on every day. That's why he's MVP of the league this year."

Portland star Damian Lillard felt the Trail Blazers gave a great account of themselves and doffed his cap to Embiid.

"It was a good performance," Lillard said. "We played really well on both ends of the floor. The game felt good, just how we played on both sides.

"We were on a string defensively. Our presence on the ball. Our presence in the paint, and we gave ourselves a really good chance to win the game.

"They just made a big-time shot from a big-time player."

Philadelphia have won five of their six games this month and sit third in the Eastern Conference.

Head coach Doc Rivers: "It wasn't our night until 1.1 seconds, when you think about it. We stayed at it. We were looking for everything and just couldn't get going, man. We looked like we were in mud in the first half on both ends.

"That's a hell of a win for us because we didn't have a lot, and you could see it."

A 34-point haul for Anfernee Simons was in vain for the Trail Blazers, who slipped to 31-36.

James Harden was saluted for an "incredible" feat by coach Doc Rivers after becoming the first Philadelphia 76ers player to post 20 assists in a game twice in a season.

After scoring a personal season-high 38 points in the 147-143 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, Harden made his next game one to remember, too.

He was not so prolific in the points column against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night, with a modest 14 to his name, but 20 assists and nine rebounds helped to guide the Sixers to a 147-143 victory.

It followed his 21-assist game against the Los Angeles Clippers in December. These are the only 20-plus rebound games in 33-year-old Harden's career to date.

Joel Embiid led scorers with 42 points, while Tyrese Maxey (24 points) and Jalen McDaniels (20) also weighed in.

Rivers said of Harden's effort, amid a strong team display: "It's just incredible. The great thing about James overall is he pretty much doesn't turn the ball over a lot, makes smart plays.

"But his passing when he plays like tonight and the other night – the other night he had 30 and 10, tonight he had 14 and 20 – it just makes us so hard to beat with his ability to pass."

Looking at some of Harden's most audacious passing, Rivers said few in the NBA possessed comparable quality.

"Those passes are five-guys-in-the-league, maybe, passes," Rivers said.

Harden joked about Maxey failing to secure him a 21st assist late in the game, as Philadelphia (42-22) consolidated third spot in the Eastern Conference.

"Seriously man, what are we doing? I'm just playing," Harden said.

"But I'm just trying to make plays. Not really efficient scoring the basketball tonight but find other ways to put an impact on the game. I saw some different things, made some good passes and had one turnover and that's because Joel couldn't catch the basketball.

"All in all, I'm just happy to come out with the win."

Quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Harden reflected on twice getting to 20 assists in games this season. He leads the league with an average of 10.8 assists per game.

"It's an unbelievable franchise, man," Harden said. "They got so many great players that have put on a 76ers jersey. To be added to the list is one of those feelings."

 

Going over 40 for the 11th time this season 

Joel Embiid finishes with 42 PTS in the @sixers win on the road! pic.twitter.com/UddGffAIc9

— NBA (@NBA) March 7, 2023

Doc Rivers was frustrated by the Philadelphia 76ers' second unit after his side gave up a big lead against the New York Knicks.

The Sixers went down 108-97 in New York on Sunday, despite taking a 21-point lead in the first quarter.

Philadelphia's advantage was cut to just two by halftime, and although they restored a three-point cushion heading into the final quarter, they could not hold out.

Having seen his team surrender a 21-point lead for the second game in a week, coach Rivers bemoaned the play of those he had to call on from the bench.

"I thought our second unit came in and struggled," Rivers told reporters.

"This is the second time that has happened. The same thing happened in Orlando.

"Both times, we were scoring too easy. The second group comes in and thinks this is an offensive game and they didn't see the reason the first group got the lead was because of defense."

Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and James Harden started and each posted double-doubles for the 76ers, yet Tyrese Maxey was the only substitute to get into double figures for points (12).

In contrast, the Knicks bench accounted for 37 points, with Evan Fournier putting up 17 of them.

Rivers did, however, insist it was "not just a bench loss".

"We've been good at that. Just because one half doesn't work, you don't vacate the unit," he said.

"That's what guys do who lose a lot. So they didn't play well, though honestly, I didn't think that's why we lost the game.

"I hate that the numbers look like it was the bench: it was everybody. This was a team loss and I made that clear.

"We'll sit and look and we'll see minus-24 and plus-34s, our stars were in some of that too when Fournier was making those shots, and so I just thought it was a team loss. I thought it was more mental and emotional than just playing basketball.

"I thought we were just not strong. Mentally, I thought they were the mentally tougher team and they deserve to win."

Embiid, who led the game with 31 points, 14 rebounds and three assists, added: "It's never easy.

"A 20-point lead in the NBA, that's nothing. Any team can come back and that's what they did tonight."

James Harden has shrugged off any stress over his chances of making the All-Star Game, saying his numbers speak for themselves.

Harden had a double-double of 26 points and 10 assists as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Orlando Magic 105-94 on Wednesday.

The 33-year-old is a 10-time All-Star, but an 11th successive appearance in the mid-season exhibition game is not guaranteed.

Harden faces stiff competition from several other star names, including Sixers team-mate Joel Embiid, in the Eastern Conference to make the reserve list for the All-Star Game. There are seven spots available for each conference.

Yet Harden, who is averaging 21.4 points per game – Embiid, with 33.5, is the only Sixers player to boast more – 6.4 rebounds and 11 assists this season, believes he has done enough.

"If my name is called, great," Harden told reporters. "If not, there's bigger and better goals for the season.

"I'm not going to sit here and make a case. The numbers show it, our seed shows it."

The Sixers are third in the East with a 33-17 record, having won eight of their previous nine games.

Harden made three catch-and-shoot three-pointers against Orlando and was thrilled to thrive in an area where he has struggled.

"That's pretty exciting, I didn't want to do too much, just catch and shoot," he explained.

"You put the work in, I work on it every day. So opportunities are going to come whether it's Joel or dribble penetration."

Embiid added: "That's not something he was comfortable with, but he's gotten better over time and he's taking more and more.

"He needs to take more than he does, but it's a good step. He's getting better and he's knocking them down."

Embiid was marked tightly by the Magic's Franz Wagner, though still topped the scoring with 28 points, adding 11 rebounds and three assists.

"A really good young player," Embiid said of Wagner. "Obviously, you can tell he's competitive, as he kept attacking even though he was not getting the better of me.

"But I like him, a great talent and as a team, that's a pretty good team."

Sixers coach Doc Rivers, meanwhile, saw scope for improvement. 

"I didn't think we played great, but we played good enough to win," he said. "We'll take that."

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers did not hide his frustration with certain elements of his team's play despite beating the Portland Trail Blazers 105-95 on Thursday.

The Sixers made it four wins on the bounce, all of which have been on the road, with Joel Embiid and James Harden playing key roles.

Embiid's 32 points made it the seventh game in a row he has reached at least 30, while Harden posted a triple-double of 16 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.

The Sixers looked to be coasting at one stage, finding themselves 26 points to the good, but the Trail Blazers made life a little trickier towards the end.

Rivers' team got the job done as they improved to 29-16 in the East, behind only the Boston Celtic and Milwaukee Bucks, though he was certainly not completely satisfied.

He was particularly irritated by the Sixers' poor handling of the Trail Blazers' trapping, and he was not impressed by how spread out his players were.

Asked how they coped with respect to trapping, Rivers said: "Poorly, but we also took advantage of some of it as well.

"I didn't think trapping was that hard, our spacing was horrendous, and we're great at spacing most nights, but tonight we kept leaving two guys on the other end.

"I'm hoarse from yelling, just getting one to cut through and we basically didn't do it. We got away with three or four more than I thought they could've had. But that's easy to fix."

In letting Portland back into the contest somewhat in the second half, Rivers felt there was a hint of complacency in the Sixers' performance.

As such, he surmised they are still not at a stage where they can consider themselves anything more than a "good" team.

He added: "There's no lesson, the lesson is execute. I just thought we didn't.

"You get leads sometimes and they're hard, NBA leads shrink quickly and then you get complacent, and I think we did a little bit of that.

"But in that, one thing I like is we kept playing defense, and that's a good sign.

"I think we're good, and I think we can be really, really good. But we have work to do.

"We can't expect to come in and just show up and win, we have to go out and do something about it."

Nevertheless, with the likes of Embiid and Harden in their arsenal, the Sixers have the kind of star quality that can drag them through the mud even when they are not at their optimal level as a unit.

That is not lost on Embiid.

"I think from the beginning it was easy," he said of linking up with Harden, who joined from the Brooklyn Nets last February.

"When you've got two guys with high basketball IQs, you can figure it out everything easy.

"So, it's all about just playing off of each other. We've been doing a wonderful job of doing that."

Doc Rivers compared James Harden's showing against the Detroit Pistons to something akin to prime Magic Johnson.

Harden finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 123-111 win for the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

In the process, Harden surpassed 24,000 career regular-season points, becoming the 27th player to hit that landmark.

And Rivers believes Harden deserves to be compared to the very best.

"I hate to you use this example, but when he's playing like this, it's like having a scoring Magic Johnson on the floor," Rivers told reporters. 

"When he runs our team with this kind of pace and he scores and gets assists, we're really good."

The Sixers needed others to step up in the absence of Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey also delivered alongside Harden, scoring 23 points.

"Our defense was pretty good, we took care of the ball and I think everyone competed hard," Maxey said.

"Even someone like Paul Reed comes in and gets nine points and eight offensive rebounds. He plays with so much energy that the other team can't keep up."

Philadelphia are 24-15 for the season and sit fifth in the Eastern Conference, which is propped up by the 11-32 Pistons.

"That's a team playing for a championship and we shot ourselves in the foot," said a frustrated Pistons coach Dwane Casey. 

"We had 22 turnovers – the same number we had in the last game against them. We can't give them points like that."

Joel Embiid has been ruled out by the Philadelphia 76ers for the game against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday with "foot soreness".

Embiid had landed awkwardly in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' 120-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday.

The 28-year-old center was assessed by the Sixers team doctors on Wednesday and was ruled out despite initially being listed as questionable.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said there were no long-term issues and that Embiid was day-to-day moving forward.

"He didn't talk about a lot of soreness right afterwards," Rivers told reporters prior to Wednesday's game.

"Then, later that night, he said his foot was bothering him and was sore, and then more the next day."

Embiid was the Eastern Conference player of the month for December after averaging 35.4 points on 54.5 per cent shooting from the field for the month.

James Harden was left blown away after joining "rare company" by matching the Philadelphia 76ers franchise record of 21 assists in Friday's 119-114 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Harden joined Wilt Chamberlain and Mo Cheeks with the record, which was a career-high for the former MVP, in a game where the 76ers rallied from a 20-point first-half deficit.

The 33-year-old finished the game with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 21 assists and became the second player in 76ers history with a 20-assist triple-double, joining Chamberlain from 1968 against the Detroit Pistons.

"That's rare company," Harden told reporters. "Mo Cheeks was one of my coaches in OKC and then Wilt, I feel like he has every record.

"Just always and be in the conversation of some of the best basketball players to touch a basketball is a blessing. Hopefully, I can keep going and get more records."

Joel Embiid top scored for the 76ers with 44 points, shooting 18-of-30 from the field with seven rebounds and three assists. Harden regularly fed Embiid points throughout the game.

"I just do what I do," Harden said. "Honestly, I feel really good and just trying to get to that paint and they do a really good job of using their length.

"They're a really long team, they switch, they do a really good job of switching so I tried to press the paint and really try and find matchups that work in our advantage that really make the game easier for all of us and guys knock down shots, Joel did a really good job of getting to his spots. It was a total team effort."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers heaped praise on Harden for sacrificing his scoring game.

"This is a generational scorer that has taken and decided to be a point guard, who still scores, but to be a point guard for this team," Rivers said.

"That's hard to do. A lot of people, most people, can’t do that, or will not do it is a better way of saying it. The fact that he is willingly doing it, running the team, organizing us, is huge for us."

Joel Embiid was more concerned about Philadelphia 76ers teammate Tyrese Maxey's foot injury than his own rolled ankle which saw him hobble through Saturday's 112-109 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Embiid hurt his ankle when he tripped over teammate Georges Niang with 5:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, staying grounded as he was attended to by a trainer before hobbling to the bench at Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers center returned to the court and hit a crucial three-pointer but ran with a limp throughout, while he also hobbled at his post-game press conference.

"Hopefully, somehow it feels better, but we'll see," Embiid told reporters.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers also did not seem overly concerned by the ankle problem lingering long term.

"I think it's a turned ankle," Rivers said. "He went back in and played, so I think he's good. Anybody who goes to the floor, I always worry."

Embiid expressed more concern for Maxey, who was hurt in Friday's 110-102 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, with an MRI scan on Saturday confirming a fractured foot which will sideline him for three to four weeks.

"It really hit me when I heard the news about him missing some time, too," said Embiid, who scored 32 points with nine rebounds and six assists against the Timberwolves.

"That's why even starting the game, I really wasn’t in the game to start the game, but that's why I was trying to really play make and try to get everybody involved and all of that."

Maxey's injury comes with the Sixers already missing James Harden (foot) and Tobias Harris (hip).

"I just felt bad for him because he puts in so much work and, he takes care of himself," he said. "Obviously, missing James to the same thing and Tobias being hurt. It does suck, but it’s next man up."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers has never seen anything like Joel Embiid's performance at both ends in Sunday's 105-98 win over the Utah Jazz.

Embiid scored a career-best 59 points, with a joint career-high seven blocks, along with 11 rebounds and eight assists.

The Cameroonian scored 26 of Philadelphia's 27 final quarter points and more than half their total score, a feat not achieved in the NBA since Damian Lillard in 2019.

"I've seen a guy score a lot of points," Rivers told reporters. "I haven't seen guys score a lot of points, rebound, and then the blocked shots. That was impressive.

"He was just getting everything. I've never seen a more dominating performance when you combine defense and offense."

Embiid's teammates were left in awe too, with Matisse Thybulle labelling his stat line as "pretty ridiculous".

"It’s absurd. Actually, my friends were texting me after the game and they were like 'It's like a 2K stat line' and it's not one of those things you see in a real basketball game," Thybulle said.

"It's like when you pick one player on 2K and just do everything with him. It's pretty ridiculous if I'm being honest. It's amazing."

Embiid's 59 points is the best in the NBA this season, exceeding Darius Garland's mark of 51 set earlier on Sunday in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 129-124 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Despite his monstrous performance, Embiid played down the significance of his individual display.

"This is not about me. We did it as a team," the 28-year-old center said. "Obviously, the coaches put me in those positions, and obviously, my teammates fed me the ball. I thought we had great spacing around everything we were doing.

"Like I said, all the credit goes to my teammates just being in the right spots and trusting me and giving me the ball."

Embiid shot 19-of-28 from the field including making a three-pointer, which reinforced to him that it was going to be his game.

"When I finally made a three [I knew it was going to be a big game] because I’ve been shooting the ball so bad this year from three," he said.

"It was early in the game. I saw how they were guarding me. Just like last night, I'll take that every night. If they’re not gonna double team as much, I hope every team does it so I'll take it, but from the beginning... Obviously, in the fourth quarter with the game being so close, I just wanted to do whatever it took."

With Joel Embiid out of the line-up for the Philadelphia 76ers' trip to take on the Toronto Raptors, it was third-year guard Tyrese Maxey rising to the challenge to set a new career-high points total in the 112-90 win.

Maxey, who prior to Friday had only ever scored more than 33 points once – a 39-point effort against the Denver Nuggets as a rookie – set a new personal-best with 44 points against the Raptors.

He was incredibly efficient, hitting 15-of-20 from the field and nine-of-12 from three-point range, while also leading the 76ers with eight rebounds and chipping in four assists.

Former league MVP James Harden was happy to cede the responsibility to his less-experienced running-mate, finishing with just 11 points, four rebounds and four assists as he assumed a supporting role.

It was also a breakout performance for De'Anthony Melton, who was given his first start in a 76ers uniform after being acquired in the offseason and made his presence felt defensively, snatching five steals to go with his 13 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Speaking to the media after the game, Maxey said his big night was simply the product of the offense running smoothly.

"It was [about] getting good looks," he said. "We got to the paint, sprayed off for threes, got in transition, and once you get stops, the game becomes way easier honestly, for not just myself, but for all of us.

"We were getting to the paint and driving and kicking, creating, generating offense for everybody. That’s why I got open threes, why [Melton] got open threes, Tobias [Harris] got open threes. 

"I just know how good we can be, I know how talented we are, but we’ve got to match our talent with the energy that we play with, and defensive tenacity.

"Tonight we knew it was going to be extremely hard without Joel. That made guys step up, that made guys do things they don’t normally do."

Teammate Matisse Thybulle was thrilled to see Maxey shine, but he said it was no surprise.

"Every time he gets an opportunity, he does something big with it," he said. "You could even take it back to the COVID games we were looking at our bench, like who’s gonna be the one to step up? 

"Tyrese Maxey did – and it’s like, time after time – Tyrese is the one that steps up, shows up big and he does it, obviously, as an individual, but for the team, and we all benefit from it."

Head coach Doc Rivers also enjoyed the show, and he pointed to it as an indicator of how well the 76ers adjusted without their star center.

"I just think he’s a heck of a basketball player," he said. "We came into the game knowing Joel wasn’t gonna play… we talked to [the rest of the team] this morning about trying to find matchups and then spacing the floor and attacking.

"They are a great help-defensive team and they can’t stop it. Us getting into the paint sucked everybody in, and that’s where we got shots. I thought we were ready for that and I thought we did a good job."

After starting the season with three consecutive losses, the 76ers have now won two of their past three to take a 2-4 record into their road trip against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.

Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden said it is a weight off everyone's shoulders to finally get their first win of the season on the board with a 120-106 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.

After an 0-3 start following losses to the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and the San Antonio Spurs, the 76ers began to right the ship with an explosive first half.

Led by former MVP Harden with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the first two quarters, the 76ers ran out to a 64-46 halftime lead.

Back-to-back MVP runner-up Joel Embiid worked his way to the free throw line in the second half, hitting all nine of his attempts to finish with 26 points (eight-of-13 shooting), five rebounds and three blocks, while Harden posted 29 points (10-of-18 shooting) with nine rebounds and 11 assists.

Speaking to the media after the game, Harden said it's a good start, but there is still plenty of work to do if they want to be real contenders this season.

"That felt good, man," he said. "It felt like we were 0-82. It felt good, but it's a work in progress.

"As much as we want things to happen overnight, and for us to be 4-0, we're 1-3. We just have to continue to work, continue to build really good habits, and live with the results. 

"We have to hang our hats on the defensive end, and I think we had some really good spurts, and then some where we let them back in the game. We have to continue to build and continue to hang our hats on the defensive end."

Meanwhile, head coach Doc Rivers praised Embiid for his patience and playing within the structure of the offense.

"I liked his patience," he said. "This was one of those game where you haven't won a game, and they're trapping him every time – literally every time he touched it early – and he just kept moving it.

"He was in no rush, and eventually it opened up because they were tired of us making threes, so then they left Joel one-on-one – which is not going to work either.

"I just liked how he approached the game – he had great patience, he let the game come to him."

Rivers added that if the 76ers want to play faster – which they do – the Pacers are a great team to do it against.

"They play really fast – because they have to," he said. "They're very similar to San Antonio, and I've coached teams like this. When you don't have the one guy you can just give it to, you better run, if you have any chance.

"We really focused on [our pace] this morning – our goal was to get the ball across halfcourt by 20 [on the shot clock]. I don't think we accomplished that goal a lot, but we did get it up there a lot earlier.

"That allows us – especially against trapping teams, because they were switching and trapping Joel [Embiid] – having those four or five extra seconds to make the extra pass, guys get rhythm shots."

Harden also touched on that point, shouldering the blame for some of their lack of pace in the opening games as they entered this contest with the fewest possessions-per-game at 98.3, whereas the league-leading Golden State Warriors are averaging 113.4 possessions.

"It gives us more time to create a better shot," he said. "When you're walking the ball up, you're limited, so we want our pace to pick up a little more.

"The first couple games I put that on myself – just because I've played against some really good individual defensive players – but even me, when they're on me, I've got to push the ball up and push the tempo.

"That's just going to give us more opportunities on the back-end when the shot clock is winding down. Tonight was a good start, and we just need to keep improving."

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