Grotz: Embiid drops 70 points in first meeting with Victor Wembanyama

San Antonio's Victor Wembanyama, left, goes up for a shot against Joel Embiid during the first half Monday night. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
San Antonio’s Victor Wembanyama, left, goes up for a shot against Joel Embiid during the first half Monday night. 

PHILADELPHIA — The NBA hasn’t seen a generational talent like Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-4 rookie with the San Antonio Spurs since LeBron James burst into the league two decades ago.

Joel Embiid’s fans will dispute this, especially after the big guy racked up a club-record 70 points points to lift the Sixers to a 133-123 win over the Spurs Monday night, but Philly hasn’t seen anyone with the skills, athleticism, and length of the just turned 20-year-old Wemby since the late Wilt Chamberlain was setting records … at Overbrook High, that is.

Speaking of Chamberlain, it was pretty clear the 76ers wanted to make a statement with Wemby here and possibly even Brett Brown, their former head coach on the other bench.

“The history here and some of the unbelievable payers in the whole history of the franchise, that’s probably a more meaningful, tougher record to have,” Sixers coach Nick Nurse said. “More prestigious, whatever you want to say just because of some of the great scorers that have been here.”

The most Chamberlain scored for the 76ers was 68 points. HIs 100-point game came with the Philadelphia Warriors.

But back to Wembanyama, who one day is going to be putting up 70 or so points of his own in a league that doesn’t play defense until the playoffs. Wemby played big like a shot blocker, fast like a wing forward and deadly accurate shooter from long distance, drilling his first two three-point attempts from Parking Lot F at Wells Fargo Center. He finished with 33 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.

Other than the 7-foot, 280-pound Embiid, who ruled the low post, the only thing that slowed Wemby was two personal fouls in the first six minutes. The over-aggressiveness earned him a spot on the bench.

Before the game, grizzled Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had fun answering a question about how Wemby would introduce himself to Embiid in this, his first matchup with the reigning MVP and his first trip to this city.

“We’re going to hammer his ass,” Popovich barked to a chorus of media laughter. “I told Wemby ‘put your butt right in his stomach, back him down over the rim and just throw him through the rim.’ That’s what you can look for tonight.”

A big grin later, Popovich added, “Don’t tell Wemby I said that.”

Popovich was totally chill in pregame. Certainly nothing like that lunatic who grabbed a microphone and scolded Spurs fans for booing Kawhi Leonard during a trip to San Antonio earlier this season.

“What else can I do?” Popovich, who was teaching an 8-34 team how to win, said with a smile Monday.

Truth be told, Popovich is living vicariously through Wembanyama despite his own remarkable resume featuring five NBA titles spread over 27 seasons. Popovich has coached a lot of superstars, not the least of which are big men David Robinson and Tim Duncan. None of those guys is quite like Wembanyama.

Robinson and Duncan arrived with near impeccable fundamentals after accomplished college careers. Popovich and a Spurs coaching staff that includes formers Sixers head coach Brett Brown basically is teaching Wemby footwork and how to hold the ball high like Bill Walton to avoid turnovers.

Wembanyama is far, far from a finished product. But in today’s NBA, one where the rules and 3-point arc favor scoring, he’s averaging 19.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. Wembanyama has done so with a minutes restriction of roughly 28 per game, along with no back-to-back games, though the latter could soon change.

Wembanyama couldn’t wait to win the opening tap Monday against Embiid, although that victory was short-lived. Embiid hit a fallaway jumper with Wemby stretching to make it difficult. In the next 29 seconds, kaboom-kaboom, Wemby hit back-to-back 3-pointers.

Very entertaining unless you were Sixers coach Nick Nurse, who is shorthanded due to injuries and called time with his team trailing, 14-5, just to make sure they realized they were letting the Spurs hang around.

It was an entertaining first quarter. Embiid got Wemby in the air to draw a foul, then Wemby got Embiid airborne, to earn a foul. Wemby was fearless, a quality that surprised Popovich in addition to the shooting touch, shot-blocking frame and quick feet.

“Maybe the fact that he’s figured out the physicality of the game quicker than I thought he might,” Popovich said. “In the very beginning it was very tough for him.”

Embiid, on the other hand, scored 24 points in just the first quarter, one in which the Sixers exited on the wrong side of a 35-34 score.

Embiid got his 29th and 30th points on a jump shot over Wemby in the second quarter. He would finish the first half with 34 points and 10 rebounds. Wemby responded with a scoop-and-score to give him 18 points, to go with four rebounds and one assist in the half.

The Sixers led by four points at the intermission, 62-58, with a ton of highlights to go in a game that’s changed dramatically from the days of Duncan and Robinson.

“It’s a lot easier for him now than it would be in the day when somebody would be guiding him all over with his hand,” Popovich said, of an earlier era of permissiveness on hand checks. “And defensively he can roam more the way Joel does. They don’t specifically guard a guy all the time. Their job is to go to the rim, changing shots, blocking shots, doing that sort of thing.”

As for the Sixers, they put Embiid back in the game with 6:38 left basically to set the club record. It was garbage time and the big guy was tired. Finally, he hit the mark to make history.

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