Sixers' Joel Embiid returns against Warriors, pays tribute to Kobe Bryant

PHILADELPHIA -- Joel Embiid had to do it like the kids on the playground, a yell of "Kobe!" as he shot a fadeaway in the one-night-only No. 24 jersey he wore for his basketball idol.

Embiid buried the bucket to give him a tidy 24 points -- and yes, eight defensive rebounds -- in a somber night in Philly dedicated to Kobe Bryant.

Embiid returned early from a hand injury, in part to help the Sixers in their push for a better playoff seed in the East, but also because he wanted to honor Bryant.

Embiid was a teen in Africa when he first got hooked on basketball watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals. Bryant's style and swagger inspired the 7-foot Embiid to give up volleyball and convince his father he had a new direction in his promising athletic career.

"That was the turning point in my life," Embiid said. "It was watching Kobe. After watching, I just wanted to be like him."

Wearing No. 24 in honor of Bryant, Embiid powered Philadelphia to a 115-104 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. Embiid and the rest of the Sixers wore No. 24 and No. 8 Bryant jerseys in warmups in honor of the Los Angeles Lakers star, who was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Embiid was granted permission from Hall of Famer Bobby Jones to wear the retired No. 24 instead of his usual 21 for his first game since he tore a ligament in a finger in his left hand.

"It was tough but that's how you honor him, you go out there and you do your best," Embiid said. "You work hard and you play through stuff."

The Sixers went 6-3 without Embiid, the first Sixer to be voted to three straight All-Star Games since Allen Iverson. Embiid had averaged 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds in 31 games this season. Against the Warriors, Embiid played with a splint on his hand that didn't affect him when he buried a 3 that sent the Sixers into halftime with a 59-54 lead.

"For his first game back, it was pretty impressive,`` coach Brett Brown said.