Embiid, Towns make it a night like few others in NBA history

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts after being showered with water after defeating the San Antonio Spurs at the Wells Fargo Center on January 22, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Embiid scored a franchise-record 70 points in the game. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/AFP

Joel Embiid scored 70 in Philadelphia. Karl-Anthony Towns had 62 in Minnesota. The elite big men paired up to do something the NBA hadn’t seen on the same day in more than 45 years.

So, mark it down: Jan. 22, 2024, was a day unlike almost any other in NBA history.

On the 18th anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game for the Los Angeles Lakers — the second-best scoring game in NBA history — Embiid and Towns put on a pair of dazzling, historic scoring shows of their own with a pair of career-high, franchise-record efforts.

“From the time I started playing, Kobe was my guy,” Embiid said. “He’s the reason why I started playing basketball. It’s funny, on the same night, he got 81 and that was my favorite player.”

Embiid’s 70 points set the 76ers’ record in Philadelphia’s 133-123 win over San Antonio. Towns scored 62 points — two more than his previous career best and Wolves record — but it wasn’t enough in Minnesota’s 128-125 loss to Charlotte.

AN HISTORIC 70-POINT NIGHT FOR JOEL EMBIID 👏

✅ 76ers franchise record
✅ 9th player in NBA history to score 70+
✅ A new career high

70 PTS, 18 REB, 24/41 FGM, 21/23 FTM pic.twitter.com/gDKY2E9bVA

— NBA (@NBA) January 23, 2024

Add it all up, and Monday was the fourth day in NBA history where two players scored at least 60 points. The others were April 9, 1978, (David Thompson had 73 for Denver, George Gervin had 63 for San Antonio as they dueled on the season’s final day for the scoring title), Jan. 17, 1962, (Jerry West scored 63 for the Lakers, Wilt Chamberlain scored 62 for the Philadelphia Warriors) and Dec. 8, 1961 (Chamberlain had 78 for the Warriors and Elgin Baylor had 63 for the Lakers in a triple-overtime game against one another).

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“These boys tonight going CRAZY!!” NBA career scoring leader LeBron James posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Added Phoenix star Kevin Durant, who had ‘only’ 43 in the Suns’ 115-113 win Monday over Chicago: “I mean, the skill level in this league is insane and actually the coaching and the schemes on offense is insane. You’re seeing so many different sets being run for bigs to get 3s. Coaches are being way more creative to put their best players in great positions to get those numbers.”

Victor Wembanyama — the 7-foot-3 Spurs rookie — had 33 points for San Antonio, and even he was no match for Philly’s big man, reigning NBA MVP and two-time defending scoring champion. Embiid had 34 at halftime, and when he scored five quick points early in the third quarter, 76ers coach Nick Nurse began taking notice.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) reacts after missing a shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

“I was like, ‘Geez, that’s a lot with a whole half to go. … This’ll probably be a big number tonight,’” Nurse said.

A real, real, real big number. Embiid’s 70-point night tied the 12th-biggest scoring effort in NBA history, and broke Chamberlain’s 76ers team record of 68 points.

“To be in the same conversation, that’s pretty cool,” Embiid said.

Chamberlain was playing for the Philadelphia Warriors when he set the NBA record with 100 points.

“He’s a fantastic player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Embiid. “Obviously, in the running for MVP. That’s for sure. But everybody already knew that.”

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Embiid became the ninth different player with a 70-point game: Chamberlain did it six times, and everyone else on the list — Baylor, Thompson, David Robinson, Bryant, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard and now Embiid — has done it once.

Embiid got to enjoy his big night since it came in a win. Towns — who had 44 points at halftime — didn’t have that luxury, with the Wolves falling.

KAT left it all on the floor, including scoring 44 1H PTS and knocking down 10 triples on way to a new career high of 62.

Towns becomes the first player in NBA history with 10+ 3PM, 10+ 2PM, and 10+ FTM in a game. pic.twitter.com/o6EoQtnpSg

— NBA (@NBA) January 23, 2024

“We’ve got to find a way to win,” said Towns, adding that he didn’t see any silver lining even after scoring 62. “It’s about winning the game.”

It was only the second time since 1993 that a player scored at least 62 points in a loss; Booker had 70 in a Phoenix loss at Boston in 2017. That said, Towns also had a game unlike any other in NBA history — the first player ever with 10 2-pointers, 10 3-pointers and 10 free throws in a game.

“What is it, 15 of us in here?” said Wolves guard Anthony Edwards, who acknowledged postgame that he stopped looking for his shot with hopes that Towns would score even more. “Fourteen of us wanted to see him get 80. … Congratulations to Big KAT, a one-of-a-kind performance.”

Lillard had at least nine of each type of basket on three occasions. James Harden had nine 1s, 2s and 3s on two occasions. Towns is the first with a triple-double of basket types; he was 11 for 20 on 2-pointers, 10 for 15 on 3-pointers and 10 for 14 on free throws.

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Embiid was a mere 1-for-2 on 3-pointers Monday.

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“I was actually surprised he didn’t beat me,” Embiid said of Towns. “I heard he had like 45 at halftime. … He obviously did it in a different way. I had one 3 and he had 10 of them. That’s amazing.”

Durant — who stands 6-foot-10, but isn’t a true ‘big’ who plays down low like Embiid and Towns often do — just raved about what he’s seeing.

“This is the peak of basketball in my opinion,” Durant said. “We’ve got bigs in the league getting 70 and 60, making nine or 10 3s, shooting pullup jump shots. It’s insane what we’ve got going on.”

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