PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid went from doubtful to dominant, using a sprained right hand that nearly sidelined him to instead rock the rim, swat shots and stop the Spurs.
“I want to be out there with them. I don’t want to quit on them,” Embiid said.
Ruled out by the 76ers before tipoff, Embiid made the call to push through and play, and then dealt San Antonio a rare bad hand in Philadelphia. Embiid had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead the 76ers to a 112-106 win over the Spurs on Wednesday night.
The Sixers needed all 35 minutes from Embiid to knock off short-handed San Antonio and snap a 12-game losing streak to the Spurs.
It was the same old Embiid during the 76ers’ fast start. He grabbed a rebound and had a putback for the first score of the game and had six points and six rebounds in the first quarter.
He slammed home an alley-oop in the third and never even looked at his hand as he sank a free throw to finish the play.
“I was fine. Nothing to worry about,” Embiid said.
Embiid, who blocked four shots, sat by his locker and had several minutes of treatment to try to prevent further swelling. He had an anti-inflammatory gel gently massaged into the palm of his massive hand. Embiid flexed his fingers before his bruised hand was wrapped in ice.
“That’s a gutsy effort,” coach Brett Brown said.
Brown fleeced his good friend and former boss, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, on the condition of his cornerstone center during their pregame chat. Popovich learned only minutes before tipoff that Embiid — and not listed center Amir Johnson — was in the lineup.
“I’m glad he played,” Popovich said. “I want to see him play. He’s great.”
Embiid suffered the injury in a hard fall Saturday against the Suns and had said before the game his hand was swollen and he couldn’t shoot. But he used a soft touch to sink a couple of jumpers during pregame drills, and that was enough to convince the Sixers he could play.
The Sixers blew a 16-point lead and might have been thumped from the outset had the Spurs not sat five players.
Ben Simmons put the Sixers ahead 106-103 on a goaltended basket and free throw. JJ Redick buried a long jumper — with an assist from Embiid — and Simmons shook the rim with a dunk that brought the fans to their feet and sealed the win.
“It’s a team that didn’t have a full-strength roster,” Brown said, “but in my eyes, it’s still the San Antonio Spurs.”
76ers: Soccer star Carli Lloyd rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell to start the game. … Simmons had 26 points and Redick scored 20.
Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 draft, appears close to playing again after missing two months with right shoulder soreness. Fultz has played in only four games this season, all as a reserve. He participated in both 4-on-4 half-court drills and light one-on-one work this week at practice. Fultz struggled with his mechanics when he did play, and his shooting form was widely mocked around the NBA.
Brown said he had not determined how Fultz would be worked into the rotation when he did return.
“I’m excited because he completely connects the dots to what we don’t have,” Brown said. “Anybody that can create their own shot, anybody that can create something for somebody else is of extreme value to the collection of what we do. That is his skill set.”
Brown was all smiles when he caught up with Popovich. Brown joined the Spurs as a member of their basketball operations department in 1998-99 and was a member of the Spurs organization for the first four of their championship seasons (1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007).
Brown had been 0-8 vs. Popovich.
Popovich said Brown was the right coach for the job and to handle the painful, ongoing rebuild in Philadelphia
“It’s the fortitude, the patience that he’s exhibited in such a consistent manner in tough circumstances for several years,” Popovich said. “I don’t know of a coach that I’ve ever run into that could handle that adversity and stay so positive and continue to teach.”
Brown has a 93-272 career record in four-plus seasons with the Sixers.
Spurs: Host Phoenix on Friday.
76ers: Host Detroit on Friday.