As the Philadelphia 76ers stuttered to a hit-and-miss start, there was a sense that their star center, Joel Embiid, needed to break through.
Embiid delivered with the best game of his career Sunday night, pouring in a career-high 59 points as the 76ers beat the Utah Jazz, 105-98.
It was the highest point total of the season in the N.B.A., surpassing the 51 points Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers had tallied just an hour or so before. Last season’s best games were 60-point efforts by Kyrie Irving of the Nets and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves.
And Embiid’s game actually could have been a little better: He shot only 1 of 5 on 3-pointers. With a .334 career 3-point percentage, he may have left a couple of points on the table.
His 19-for-28 shooting effort came from all over: six baskets down low, five farther out in the paint, two at the top of the key and five from the wings, plus that lone 3-pointer.
And Embiid didn’t just score. He totaled 11 rebounds and seven blocks, and perhaps most impressively got eight assists on a night when his teammates combined to make only 21 total baskets.
Since the N.B.A. started counting blocks in the early 1970s, he is the first player to tally at least 50 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks and 5 assists in a game, and he exceeded all those marks. He also did it in only 37 minutes.
The closest player to those numbers? Probably Embiid in the 2020-21 season, when he came up a block short against Chicago with 50 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks. Anthony Davis also barely missed when he was with the Pelicans in 2016-17 and had 50 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks against Denver. (He also had five steals.)
Embiid’s impressive stat line came even though the Jazz defense concentrated on him: Fouled frequently, he shot 24 free throws and made 20 of them.
“I missed too many free throws,” Embiid said with a laugh after the game.
Only one other Sixer even attempted a free throw, Danuel House Jr., who made 1 of 2.
Basketball Reference gave Embiid’s effort a Game Score of 54.4, making it the eighth-most productive N.B.A. game going back to the 1980s. No. 1 is Michael Jordan’s 69-pointer for Chicago against Cleveland in 1989-90, which gets a game score of 64.6. Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game for the Lakers against the Raptors in 2005-6 ranks second.
Embiid’s 59 points is the fifth-highest total in franchise history behind 68-, 65- and 62-point games from Wilt Chamberlain and a 60-pointer from Allen Iverson. (Chamberlain’s 100-point game, not to mention five 70-pointers, came with the Warriors when they were in Philadelphia and San Francisco.)
Embiid had a 50-point game in each of the last two seasons, and has scored at least 40 on 28 occasions in his career. But 59 was comfortably new territory for him.
The game was the second of back-to-back home games for the Sixers. Embiid scored 42 against the Atlanta Hawks the night before, but showed little signs of weariness.
“Joel Embiid is very good at basketball,” understated his teammate Tyrese Maxey, who had the team’s second-highest point total against the Jazz, a comparatively paltry 18.
The game was a needed win for the Sixers, who were expected to contend for a title, but are just 7-7 to start the season. Embiid has missed four games with a sore knee and flu, while James Harden has missed the last five with a strained tendon in his foot.
Expectations were rock bottom this season for their Sunday night victims, the Jazz. The team got rid of Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert in the off-season as part of what appeared to be a total teardown. But the remaining unheralded players, including Lauri Markkanen and Mike Conley, had overachieved, posting a surprising 10-4 record.
Until they ran into Embiid.