Game Recap: Embiid, Saric Debuts Highlight 92-89 Win

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

The BroadCast Post-Game Rewind:

Snapshot:
AMHERST, MA - If the goal of the 76ers’ trip to University of Massachusetts were to learn and head home encouraged, then, by many accounts, the mission was accomplished. 

That the team pulled out a 92-89 victory over the Boston Celtics at the William D. Mullins Center was nice, but what the Sixers, their fans, and many NBA observers waited with anticipation to see Tuesday night were the Sixers’ two headlining rookies, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.

The former was given a good look in the first half, and held his own. The latter demonstrated exactly why he became such a coveted European prospect.

Let’s begin with Embiid, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, who was sidelined the past two seasons with right foot problems. Going into the game, he was expected to receive a hard 12 minutes. Brett Brown went over “budget” by 57 seconds.

"First you start with just the emotional side of watching him be on the floor and running up and down, and you see immediately there's a confidence, and a swagger that he carries himself with - he wants the ball," Brown said. "As that first half unfolded, you saw something that the league is going to do to him in commanding a double-team." 

“At the beginning, I was pretty nervous, think I had trouble breathing, it was hard,” said Embiid. “Once I got the first bucket, everything slowed down. I started seeing the game easier, and I just felt like I was myself again.” 

True to his word from earlier in the day, Brown broke up Embiid’s playing time into four-minute “clumps.” The 22-year old big man started the contest, misfiring on his first three shots, all of which were of the mid-range variety, and taken between 12 and 15 feet.  

After subbing out at the 7:44 mark of the first quarter, Embiid returned with just under 1:20 to go in the period, proceeding to deliver what was arguably the most impact stretch of his debut. He quickly sunk a seven-foot turnaround jumper, then, with a second remaining in the frame, hit the longest two-pointer he could - a 23-footer from the top of the arc.

“If I’m open, and nobody’s around me, I’m going to shoot it,” Embiid said. 

Brown left Embiid out there for the first three minutes of the second quarter. His final run started with 4:15 remaining in the half, and he went into the break with six points (2-6 fg), four rebounds, and two blocks. That would be his final line. 

“Offensively, I think...we still got to work on it,” said Embiid. “I think I did better defensively.”

“Honestly, the 12 minutes I thought I was going to play, I thought I was going to come out and score 40 points,” he joked. 

Saric, meanwhile, performed as advertised. Yes, there were his two three-pointers, six rebounds, and two assists in 18 minutes, but the intangibles he exhibited were equally as impressive.

Having probably spent no more than two months off a basketball court in the past calendar year, Saric, lower back soreness and all, displayed the hustle and toughness that defined, in part, the reputation he earned for himself in Europe. 

When Saric was on the block, banging constantly with the likes of 12-year veteran forward Amir Johnson, he showed no intimidation or back-down. When Saric was on the perimeter, the ball moved inside and out. When the Sixers were in transition, Saric was quick to get down the floor.

“I need every game now to be better, if possible,” said Saric. “I’m happy because team win this game, continues to fight. Very happy we showed team spirit, what we really need here in the NBA. We showed how we can play.”

Saric logged the majority of his minutes in the first half; however, he did start the third quarter.

“I get the rhythm, that was most important thing,” he said.

Beyond Embiid and Saric, Tuesday’s match-up offered quality entertainment. The Sixers, down by as many as 16 points, strung together a go-ahead 18-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters. It was during this segment of the game that undrafted rookie free agent Brandon Paul emerged. He went on to tally a team-best 15 points (6-10 fg, 2-4 3fg) in less than 13 minutes of action.

On the injury front, Jahlil Okafor (right knee), Jerryd Bayless (left wrist), and Cat Barber (right wrist and hand) were all held out of Tuesday’s game. Nik Stauskas exited in the third quarter with a left hamstring strain, and did not return. 

Brett Brown Said:
On how Joel Embiid held up physically in his pre-season debut:
“I thought he looked fine. He always wants to play more than the doctors tell him he can. I’m glad we played him like we played him. I thought that physically, he looked good.”

On Dario Saric’s performance:
“For 18 minutes, I thought Dario was excellent, just solid, old school solid. I think he’s a really appropriate complement to Joel.”

Sixers Social:
It was his first NBA game of any kind. Subsequently, we highlight his first made basket.

Up Next:
The Sixers’ exhibition schedule resumes Thursday, when they welcome the Scott Brooks-led Washington Wizards to The Center for a 7:00 PM EST pairing. All-Star point guard John Wall didn’t appear in Washington’s game against Miami on Tuesday. He had surgery on both knees in May, and recently took part in his first five-on-five scrimmage.

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