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Trash talk, tussle fuel Joel Embiid to career night in win over Clippers

Trash talk, tussle fuel Joel Embiid to career night in win over Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid is no stranger to trash talking. Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, even his best friend Nerlens Noel have been on the receiving end. They’ve all brushed it off. Willie Reed, not so much. Their hostile interaction was in the heat of the moment and neither were laughing. 

“I just wanted to go inside, especially against [DeAndre Jordan] and I don't know, what's his name? But that boy fouled out,” Embiid said in a walk-off interview after the Sixers’ 109-105 win over the Clippers on Monday night (see observations).

That player whose name just happened to slip Embiid’s mind was Reed.

The tension between the two bigs began less than two minutes into the second quarter. Reed did not approve of Embiid’s defense on him at the basket when he was whistled for traveling. Embiid reacted by pointing at Reed and smiling. 

That smile didn’t last long. 

Only seconds later, Embiid went up for a basket on the Sixers’ following possession. Reed pulled him down by the shoulder, sending the 7-foot-2, 280-pound center to the floor. 

Embiid bounced up and quickly got right in Reed’s face (see video). Their teammates and officials intervened before it went any further. The refs called Reed for a Flagrant 1. The Clippers’ reserve big man ended up fouling out with 23 seconds remaining in the game.

“He just did what he had to do,” Embiid said. “He was fouling me and he got a [flagrant] because he couldn’t guard me.”

Embiid thrives in situations like this. He’s not shy to initiate the banter, but if someone else does it first, he doesn’t object. Embiid was fueled by the exchanges and put them toward a career-high 36 minutes, career-high 16 rebounds, and season-high 32 points (see highlights). It was a bounce-back effort after scoring just 12 points against the Warriors on Saturday. 

“I love when guys come at the beginning of the game and start talking trash,” Embiid said. “It gets me going. That’s what I’ve been needing the past couple games and I think it got me going, too. They were being aggressive and that’s how they get in foul trouble and that’s how I do my job.” 

Embiid made 16 trips to the free throw line, a place he has said he wants to live this season. He connected for a season-high nine free throws.

“Embiid is a tough player,” Doc Rivers said. “He just drew foul after foul. He got [Jordan] and Willie in foul trouble. That tells you how good he is.” 

Still, Embiid had to be careful about getting wrapped up in the emotional side of the matchups. His tussle with Reed happened with 10:38 remaining in the first half. He could have let the incident get the best of him, but he collected himself and stayed focused the rest of the night.

“He walks that fine line, doesn’t he, of getting engaged, getting into the game,” Brett Brown said. “I thought that he did a really good job of staying on the side of the fence that didn’t produce anything harmful for the team, a technical or something like that. 

“He used his spirit and he used his sort of swagger to help motivate himself and us. He was dominant tonight. He wanted the ball. He was physical. Brutally physical at times. I thought his attitude stayed on that fence. He didn’t cross that line.” 

As for Embiid’s approach to keeping his cool, well, it’s simple. 

“I mean, I don’t want to get fined,” he said. “So just stay calm.”

Mitchell-Nance Jr. showdown highlights All-Star Saturday

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AP Images

Mitchell-Nance Jr. showdown highlights All-Star Saturday

LOS ANGELES — Rookie Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz put on a show in the slam dunk contest to cap off NBA All-Star Saturday.

Mitchell edged Larry Nance Jr. by two points, sealing his victory with a close approximation of the 360-degree spin dunk that Vince Carter used to win the 2000 contest.

"I wanted this so badly," Mitchell said. "This is one of my favorite events of All-Star weekend. To not only be in it, but to win it, it's crazy."

Before making his winning dunk, Mitchell peeled off his Jazz jersey and wore a vintage Carter jersey from the Toronto Raptors.

Mitchell -- three inches shorter than the 6-foot-6 Carter -- needed a score of 47 to beat Nance, and he got a 48 from the five judges: DJ Khaled, Mark Wahlberg, Chris Rock and Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Lisa Leslie.

Nance, who was trying to win the contest 34 years after his father won it, had earned a perfect 50 with a dunk off a double alley-oop off the glass.

Mitchell advanced to the finals with a creative dunk in the first round that used his sister, Jordan, as well as Kevin Hart and the comedian's son as props. For that dunk, Mitchell wore a Darrell Griffith Jazz jersey. Griffith participated in the first slam dunk contest in 1984.

"I appreciate Kevin Hart coming out there and helping me out," Mitchell said. "He's my favorite comedian."

Booker wins 3-point contest with record final round
Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns won the 3-point contest with a record 28 points in the final round. He beat 2016 champion Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and Tobias Harris of the Los Angeles Clippers.

"It feels really good," Booker said. "I wanted to go out there and make a name for myself."

Did he ever. He was sensational in the final round on Saturday, when he missed only five of 25 shots.

Each player shot five five-ball racks with a one-minute time limit. The final ball of each one was a "money ball" worth two points, and one of the racks, usually the last one, was all money balls. Booker made the money ball shot on his first four racks, and then made four of the five balls on the money ball rack.

Harris, Booker and Thompson advanced from the eight-man field to the finals. Harris scored 17 points before Booker scorched the nets for 28 points. Thompson followed and scored 25 points.

The previous record was 27 points, set by Stephen Curry in 2015 and matched by Thompson the following year.

Booker, the 21-year-old sharpshooter in his third season with Phoenix, is averaging 24.2 points per game this season as the NBA's 12th-leading scorer. Eleven months after the shooting guard dropped 70 points against Boston to become the youngest player in NBA history to score even 60 in a game, Booker added another accolade to his promising career with the 3-Point title.

Thompson beat the buzzer with his final shot of the first round to reach the finals with 19 points. Booker also scored 19 and Harris had 18.

Dinwiddie tops Markkanen in Skills Challenge final 
Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets won the skills challenge to kick off NBA All-Star Saturday.

Dinwiddie, who played at Taft High in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, beat Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls in the final round.

The skills competition consisted of two players going head to head. They dribbled around pylons, passed the ball into a net, dribbled to the other end of the floor for a layup and then dribbled back to the other end to take a pull-up 3-pointer.

Eight players started the competition, with Dinwiddie and Markkanen advancing to the final.

Markkanen struggled passing the ball into the net, giving Dinwiddie a big lead. Dinwiddie dribbled down the floor and missed his first 3, but drained the next one to win.

Skills Challenge sparks Embiid's inner point guard

Skills Challenge sparks Embiid's inner point guard

LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid loves the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean the Sixers' big man is unfazed by the magnitude of the stage on which he is competing.

“I was actually extremely nervous,” Embiid said after the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. "I don’t know why. My heart was beating so fast. I have no idea why. But I thought it was fun.”

Embiid was one of eight players to test their versatility in dribbling, passing and shooting drills. Embiid defeated Al Horford in the first round and lost in the second to Lauri Markkanen. Spencer Dinwiddie took home the trophy.

Embiid pulled off a comeback victory Horford. He trailed after the dribbling and passing drills but beat out the Celtics' veteran at the three-point line to advance.

“That was wild,” Embiid said. “I lost the ball, I didn’t make the first pass and then I just threw the other two balls. That’s a good way to do it instead of wasting time. Then I was way behind and I came back and I ended up making that three and won.”

Horford was stifled when he thought his first three-point shot attempt was going in … and it didn’t. That miss opened the opportunity for Embiid to claim the round.

“The shot, which I was making before, I felt good, and then I think the pressure got to me a little bit,” Horford said. “I just wasn’t expecting that (to miss). I thought I was good. So then by that time, Joel caught up to me.”

Markkanen, the Bulls' rookie, got the best of Embiid in the next round. Embiid tried to rush through the passing drill to catch up to Markkanen, who ended up crossing in front of him at halfcourt for the clinching trey.

“After he made the layup he was a little bit in front of me,” Markkanen said. “But we couldn’t switch sides, so I had to get to the other side someway. So I tried to sprint and get in front of him and distract him a little bit. I think that worked.”

Embiid said with a big smile, "I kind of thought Lauri kind of cheated a little bit. He went in front of me, but it’s all good. It's all fun."

Even if Embiid didn’t win this contest, it wasn’t a total loss. The 7-foot-2 center has long claimed he wants to be a guard one day, and he showed off those backcourt skills. 

“I think I can still be a point guard in my future,” Embiid said.

All-Star Weekend does not end for Embiid with the Skills Challenge. After competing in the Rising Stars game Friday and this contest on Saturday, Embiid has been making sure to preserve his energy for the All-Star Game Sunday. He will start for Team Stephen.