NEW YORK — — Joel Embiid and James Harden were greeted by the loud roars of the many Philadelphia fans who filled Madison Square Garden.
The cheers then turned to groans as one foul after another threatened to drag the morning into the late afternoon.
Embiid didn’t care how he looked to viewers. All that matters is what his partnership with Harden looks like.
“Unstoppable,” he said.
Embiid scored a career and NBA season-high 37 points and 23 free throws, Harden had 29 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds, and the 76ers earned back-to-back wins with their new duo as they beat the New York Knicks 125-109 on Sunday.
The 76ers have made 39 free throws, the most in the NBA this season, and almost all of their work to open a close game midway through the fourth quarter has come from the line. Embiid was 23 of 27 in free throws and the NBA’s leading scorer added nine rebounds.
It was the opener of a home-and-away series, with Wednesday’s game being Harden’s first in front of his home fans.
“Tonight felt like we were in Philadelphia,” Harden said. “But this crowd, it’s gonna be shot in there and I’m ready for that.”
After a powerful performance in a 133-102 win at Minnesota on Friday in Harden’s debut for the 76ers, this one turned into a tough game that the 76ers handled better. He was tied at 100 in the fourth, but Philadelphia pulled away scoring 10 of its next 12 on the line. Embiid had six free throws, Harden four, and the 76ers’ only field goal during that streak came when Harden fed Embiid on the fast break.
Once Embiid fouled both opposing centers and the Knicks were forced to play small, the 76ers put Harden and Embiid in the pick-and-roll.
“So now you’re rolling the big guy in the middle and it’s really hard to come and help and that’s when we rolled him and he made all these fouls,” he said. 76ers coach Doc Rivers.
Harden added five steals and tied his season-best assists record.
RJ Barrett and Evan Fournier each scored 24 points for the Knicks, who have lost five straight and nine of 10. Julius Randle had 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Embiid scored 34 points and Harden had 27 points and 12 assists on Friday in the All-Star Guard’s first game since the 76ers acquired the 10-time All-Star and Paul Millsap for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks. in an exchange on February 10.
Harden and Embiid combined to score Philadelphia’s first 11 points. Harden made a 3-pointer that gave the Sixers a 38-35 lead after one.
But the pace eventually slowed, with Rivers seeing all the fouls and thinking, “This game is going to be a long one.”
The teams combined to commit 50 fouls. Philadelphia was 39 of 44 at the line and New York was 22 of 35.
“They shot 40, whatever, a ton of free throws, and we shot a lot,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So there was no flow in the game, so it hurts you a bit.”
76ers: Rivers said he’s not worried about Tobias Harris after the forward was just 2 for 9 for six points against Minnesota when so many other Sixers had big nights. “He had some great shots,” Rivers said. “Listen, we’re in winning territory. We’re not trying to keep everyone happy because if that’s true, we’d be in the losing business. Harris was 3 for 9 on Sunday.
Knicks: Thibodeau said he couldn’t say yet if Derrick Rose could play next month. Rose underwent surgery on Friday for a skin infection on his surgically repaired right ankle that sidelined him for two months. “You just have to let it go through it and be patient,” Thibodeau said. … Rookie Jericho Sims returned as Mitchell Robinson’s backup center, with both fouling early in the fourth. Veteran Nerlens Noel did not play due to foot problems. Thibodeau said the Knicks would rotate their centers.
DOC ON DRUMMOND
Rivers has stayed in touch with Drummond, saying he’s known about the center since he was in high school. Most of the texts are sarcastic, like the one he sent after seeing Drummond throw a behind the back pass out of bounds. Drummond had 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the Nets’ win at Milwaukee and looks to be playing a big part in Brooklyn.
“He’s playing good, man,” Rivers said. “I’m happy for him because last year, the last two years he had struggled and he came to us and I thought we really got his engine going again. Now that you look at it, he always does, so really happy for him.
The 76ers will attempt to split the four-game season series on Wednesday.