The cheers later turned to groans as one foul after another threatened to make the matinee last deep into the afternoon.
Embiid didn’t care how it looked to viewers. All that matters is how his partnership with Harden looks to him.
“Unstoppable,” he said.
Embiid scored 37 points and made a career and NBA season-high 23 free throws, Harden had 29 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds, and the 76ers made it two straight wins with their new duo by beating the New York Knicks 125-109 on Sunday.
The 76ers made 39 free throws, most in the NBA this season, and almost all their work to break open a close game midway through the fourth quarter came from the line. Embiid finished 23 of 27 on free throws and the NBA’s leading scorer added nine rebounds.
It was the opener of a home-and-home series, with the game Wednesday to be Harden’s first in front of his home fans.
“Tonight felt like we were in Philly,” Harden said. “But that crowd, it’s going to be turned (up) in there and I’m ready for it.”
After a powerful performance in a 133-102 win at Minnesota on Friday in Harden’s 76ers debut, this one became a grind-it-out game that the 76ers handled better. It was tied at 100 in the fourth, but Philadelphia pulled away by scoring 10 of its next 12 at the line. Embiid made six free throws, Harden four, and the only 76ers basket during that stretch came when Harden fed Embiid on the fast break.
Once Embiid fouled out 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 down the middle and it’s really difficult to come help and that’s when we got him rolling and getting all those fouls,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said.
Harden added five steals and matched his season best in assists.
Embiid scored 34 and Harden had 27 points and 12 assists 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 a Feb. 10 trade.
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 down, with Rivers seeing all the fouls and saying to himself: “This game’s going to be a while.”
The teams combined to commit 50 fouls. Philadelphia finished 39 of 44 at the line and New York was 22 for 35.
“They shot 40-whatever it was, a ton of free throws, and we shot a lot,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So there was no flow to the game, so that hurts you some.”