NEW YORK (AP) – Kevin Durant returned and Joel Embiid motioned for him to stand up.
Durant used the same move of disdain towards the Philadelphia 76ers when they were in Brooklyn two weeks ago, but this time the last word – and more importantly the victory – went to Embiid.
Embiid scored 34 points and the 76ers spoiled Durant’s return to the lineup by beating the Nets 110-102 on Thursday night.
Embiid punctuated the victory with a follow-up shot while being fouled.
– NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 31, 2021
He and Durant then both received technical fouls for chewing each other and the center was talking to several Nets at the end of the game, waving his arm to send them to the ground.
Afterwards, the players professed mutual respect for each other and their teams.
“If there’s one player that I think is probably talented or more talented than me, it’s him,” Embiid said. “So I have a lot of respect for him. I admire his game. So we’re just competitive. Wins matter, every one of them, and it’s always good to beat the best in the conference.
Durant played down the gossip, acknowledging that his gesture at the end of the Dec. 16 victory may have led to Embiid’s.
“If you’ve watched Joel and I play against each other, it’s like that in every game, even the All-Star Game,” Durant said. “We respect each other so much that this natural competitive fire, I guess, comes out. So that’s the name of the game.
Durant had 33 points in his first game in two weeks, after missing three games due to health and safety protocols. He picked up where he left off, averaging 39.7 points in the previous three games.
But Embiid converted a three-point tie-breaker with 3:14 remaining and Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry scored 3 points to send the 76ers to their third straight win.
“Tonight’s game was fun, but I think we shot each other in the foot throughout this game,” Durant said. “But it’s good to be back.”
James Harden had 33 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for his sixth triple-double, continuing his strong streak since returning from a three-game absence in health and safety protocols. But the Nets didn’t have a good answer for Embiid all night.
Maxey added five 3-pointers and 25 points, while Curry scored 17 for the 76ers, who were led by assistant coach Dan Burke after Doc Rivers was placed in health and safety protocols earlier Thursday.
“The last week has been crazy and I’m just happy to end the road trip after three wins and to be reunited with my family,” said Maxey.
Embiid scored 16 points in the first 9 1/2 minutes and Andre Drummond added six after replacing him, giving Philadelphia a 39-31 lead after a quarter. Embiid bet on a 3-point pointer with 30 seconds left into the half to give the 76ers a 55-54 advantage.
Durant scored 14 in the third and the Nets were up seven after scoring 3 consecutive points. But Maxey made two in a row to end the period and send the Sixers to fourth 84-82.
With Rivers, assistant coaches Sam Cassell and Brian Adams were both not available due to protocols. Assistant coach Dave Joerger left the team in November for cancer treatment. Only Burke, Eric Hughes and Jamie Young remained among Rivers’ assistant coaches.
Learn more about the 76ers