The Philadelphia 76ers (44-22) returned home after a successful road trip and faced the Portland Trail Blazers (31-36) and old friend Matisse Thybulle. The Sixers worked out of a 21-point deficit and Joel Embiid hit a game-winner to steal the win, 120-119.

Let's break down the Sixers' win over the Blazers.

Sixers player notes:

Joel Embiid: 39 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 13-20 FG shooting

Embiid had another first quarter where he demonstrated his world-beating ways (aside from his 4-8 shooting from the foul line) and was the only reliable source of offense. Portland just couldn't stop him. His Hall of Fame mid-range deadeye badge was shining bright and although he put forth a solid defensive effort, he had a tough time with the task of playing up enough to halt Portland's great shooters but back enough to contain drives. In the end, he had the last laugh.

James Harden: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 6-14 FG shooting

After missing the Sixers' previous game, Harden didn't have his best stuff. He was ice-cold from beyond the arc and was solid elsewhere. The jolt he provided in the fourth quarter didn't last long but it helped Philly enough to come back.

Tyrese Maxey: 13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 5-8 FG shooting

Maxey had the tough assignment of trying to guard Lillard. His aggressive defense might have gotten under the superstar's skin a little but it didn't truly slow him down. On offense, Maxey was fine but not a huge difference-maker overall, though he once again came through with big plays in crunch time.

Blazers player notes:

Damian Lillard: 22 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists, 6-15 FG shooting

The Sixers forced Lillard into one of his worst shooting nights of the season when they played in January. This time around, he wasn't having it. He found room to score and drew fouls from numerous Sixers, though his other supporting scorers found more potent grooves. It wasn't the gaudiest statistical night for Lillard but he still had a strong showing.

Anfrenee Simons: 34 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 13-22 FG shooting

Simons' shooting beyond the arc was brilliant tonight with eight triples. He likewise struggled against Philly the last time they played but was lights out in this one. His slick, slithery way of getting by defenders gave him the space to pull up from deep and hit floaters/runners.

Matisse Thybulle: 5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2-4 FG shooting

After opening up about the immense pressure he faced more with the Sixers than he has with the Blazers so far, Thybulle was decent against his former team. He made some solid plays — like poking the ball away from Embiid and hitting a shot here and there — while playing strong defense on Harden.

Game recap:

1st half

Thybulle matched up with Harden in his first game against the Sixers while Grant guarded Maxey, though Portland also went to zone early on. Maxey guarded Lillard, Tucker guarded Jerami Grant and Harris guarded Simons. Philly's offense came out flat and unable to hit anything while the Blazers did just the opposite, making eight of their first 10 looks, including four straight makes for Grant.

Once Embiid really started applying himself in the paint, the Sixers started to get going on offense. But they were bleeding points on defense while committing fouls often (including two from De'Anthony Melton). With Embiid playing at the level of the screen in pick-and-rolls to deter Lillard from bombing away, the middle was open. On one occasion where he stayed in his drop, Dame pulled up for an open three.

The Sixers went on a mini run with Lillard on the bench and Embiid leading a lineup comprised of bench guys. Embiid did a stellar job not only getting downhill but faking shots and waiting out Blazers defenders going by him in order to get easier looks. Although Philly picked up some momentum, Jalen McDaniels picked up his third foul on and and-one take from Simons.

Speaking of the young guard, he proved even more to be Lillard's protégé with a red-hot display of shooting, making five triples just 15 minutes into the game. Grant pitched in by attacking the basket and coming away with foul shots often. This absolutely insane sequence happened and what stands out about it the most to me is how hard Drew Eubanks throws the ball at Paul Reed. Some real ferocity in that laser of a throw.

With the starters back out on the court at the same time, the Sixers couldn't narrow the deficit against a surging Blazers offense. Cam Reddish had joined in on the fun while Lillard dimed up his teammates, including to Thybulle for three, to go up by 18 points and force a Philly timeout and some homecourt boos.

The Blazers led 71-56 at the half, shooting 61.9 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from deep. The Sixers' shooting percentages were 45.5 percent and 27.8 percent respectively.

2nd half

The Sixers played Embiid on Thybulle to use him as a roamer while Tucker matched up with Jusuf Nurkic. It worked well until Nurkic slipped a screen after Lillard got doubled, received a bounce pass and tossed a lob to Thybulle. Embiid attacked from the high post and Harden hit his first three of the night to pull within seven but Portland responded and pushed its lead back to 13.

McDaniels got some reps guarding Lillard but, shocker, he struggled to stay in front of him and avoid fouling. He did finally get a strong dunk to go with a two-hand flush on Eubanks but any positive offensive push from the Sixers was negated by fouls. They struggled to contain the ball in transition and the half-court but the Blazers' shooting had cooled off to the point where a comeback seemed very possible. The Sixers trailed by just 11 entering the fourth quarter.

The Harden-and-bench unit slowly got back into the game. They energized the crowd with an insane alley-oop to Danuel House Jr., who later hit a triple. A Harden and-one cut the Blazers' lead to five and brought Lillard back into the game. Lillard took a charge from Harden and helped grow the lead back to 11 before Embiid checked in with six minutes and change left.

As Embiid went right threw Eubanks to score and Georges Niang hit a three, the Sixers generated some momentum while the Blazers offense went kaput. Philly trailed by five with four minutes left and played Meton and Niang along with its three stars in crunch time. The Blazers went with their starters with the exception of Reddish in Thybulle's place. Nurkic gave Sixers fans the gift of free Chick-Fil-A nuggets with a pair of missed free throws and Harden sunk a three, though he came up holding his ankle. Embiid drew a foul and tied the game up.

After the sides traded buckets, the Sixers had the ball down by one with 7.2 seconds left. Embiid hit a fadeaway from the nail with 1.1 seconds left to give Philly its only lead of the game, which it held onto to cap off a crazy win.

Random thoughts:

  • The Wells Fargo Center crowd gave Thybulle a pretty loud round of applause when he was introduced in the pre-game lineup announcements. It drowned out the chant of “sucks!” that fans usually do after PA announcer Matt Cord says their names. Fans also applauded and gave a standing ovation during the tribute video from the team, which played early in the first quarter.
  • Doc Rivers joked that prayer was the main factor in the Sixers' ability to hold Lillard to a cold shooting performance in January.

The Sixers will host the Washington Wizards on Sunday before going on another road trip.