Sixers blow past Chicago Bulls in 116-91 win, but Joel Embiid leaves with calf tightness

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — A sarcastic cheer ripped through the United Center crowd when Nikola Vucevic sank a free throw nearly four minutes into Wednesday’s first quarter.

The Bulls had finally scored. But the 76ers had already created an insurmountable advantage.

After losing in double overtime to this opponent two nights prior, the Sixers put Chicago away early in a 116-91 blowout in Wednesday’s rematch — but now have health questions about stars Joel Embiid and James Harden.

Harden, the NBA’s leader in assists per game, missed the game with Achilles soreness. Then, Embiid did not return to the court (or the bench) in the second half because of calf tightness, though the Sixers said he is expected to play in Friday’s game at the Golden State Warriors.

Still, Wednesday’s dominant victory was the Sixers’ ninth in their past 10 games, and moved them to within a half-game of the idle Boston Celtics for second place in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Sixers’ start was red-hot — and historic. When Embiid’s dunk gave the Sixers a 21-1 lead with 7:41 to play in the first quarter, it was the second-fastest into a game that a team had amassed a 20-point advantage in the last 25 seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The fastest was when the Washington Wizards created that gap over the Brooklyn Nets at the 7:51 mark of the opening frame late in the 2015-16 season.

Their advantage then reached 30 points late in the second quarter, when Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris hit back-to-back three-pointers to make the score 74-43. The Bulls never got closer than 17 in the second half.

Maxey finished with 21 points, five rebounds and four assists on a night four Sixers finished in double figures. Before sitting out the entire second half, Embiid (12 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) initially looked on his way to challenging for his second triple-double of the season. Harris added 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

The Sixers’ four-game road trip continues Friday at the Golden State Warriors, Saturday at the Phoenix Suns and Tuesday at the Denver Nuggets.

More on that start

De’Anthony Melton chuckled with Maxey after botching a wide-open layup early in the first quarter. The reaction was understandable, because he got the ball back after after a Harris offensive rebound and laid the ball in — which gave the Sixers a 17-0 lead barely three minutes into the game.

That advantage eventually reached 23-1, a rare score in an NBA basketball game. The Sixers made 9 of their first 11 shots, while the Bulls missed their first seven field-goal attempts. Chicago did not collect its first rebound until the 6:40 mark. That play led to the Bulls’ first field goal, a driving one-handed dunk by Vucevic.

During that dominant first quarter, the Sixers held the Bulls to 8-of-20 from the floor and forced six turnovers. On the opposite end, Embiid had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists to pace a Sixers offense that made 14 of their 24 shots

The Sixers then outscored the Bulls 40-25 in the second frame to build that 30-point lead.

Tucker returns

Starting forward P.J. Tucker returned from a two-game absence with ankle soreness, overcoming two early fouls to finish with five points and three rebounds.

He was the last Sixer in the rotation to score, hitting a jumper about midway through the second quarter that gave his team a 56-37 lead. Later in the period, he nailed a corner three-pointer.

Tucker also guarded Bulls star DeMar DeRozan, including a first-half bump that caused DeRozan to exaggeratedly stammer out of bounds. DeRozan later left the game in the third quarter with a right quadriceps strain and did not return.

With Jalen McDaniels (hip bruise) sitting out Wednesday, Danuel House Jr. (five points, two steals) was the Sixers’ first sub and played 19 minutes.