After Joel Embiid’s latest dominant performance for the Philadelphia 76ers – 50 career points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks and only 2 turnovers in 35 minutes to put them ahead of the Chicago Bulls Friday night – Tobias Harris said he would never play with anyone better in his career.
“I’ll tell my kids I played with Joel Embiid once,” Harris said after scoring 22 points in the 112-105 victory. “When people ask me who is the best player I have ever played with, I say Joel Embiid. I’m honored to be on the court with him.
Embiid, one of the first winners of the MVP award, looked like a candidate for the prize with his play against the Bulls. On a night when Ben Simmons was unavailable for the second consecutive night due to illness, the Sixers needed all the help they could get from their superstar center. And, as he has done so many times this season, he helped.
Embiid, who entered the fourth quarter with 37 points and 11 rebounds, continued to dominate the game from the floor, capped by an absurd shootout in the corner with 41.3 seconds left at the end, allowing Philadelphia to come back to 109-103 and officially knock off a Bulls team that had managed to hold on all night.
But when Embiid turned around and looked at the empty stands at the Wells Fargo Center, he raised his hands and smiled. And while the fans who normally hire him continue to watch him from home because of the COWID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that Embiid was comfortable in Philadelphia, not just that night, but throughout the season.
“I think the game has gotten slower,” Embiid said when asked why he was so dominant in a season where he averaged 30.5 points, 11 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The only difference this year from last year is not so much the training, but the fact that I’m ready to dominate every minute on the court. Last year I had some tough times, but I didn’t have any tough times. And the steps [of new Sixers president Daryl Morey], with all those shots, also help a lot.
“But like I said, it’s not about the coach, it’s about me keeping my head up and being ready to do that every night, defensively and offensively.
Friday night, it was the Bulls. Although guard Zach Lavin – who Embiid says should be an All-Star when the reserves are called up – finished with 30 points, he did so by hitting just 9 on 28 from the field, which many Sixers attribute to the work of Embiid on the inside and sophomore Matisse Tibull on the perimeter.
Meanwhile, the Sixers needed every point from Embiid to keep Chicago at bay thanks to Simmons’ absence. Embiid, Harris and Danny Green (13 points) totaled 85 points and were the only Sixers to finish the game in double figures. Embiid crowned his career by taking two free throws with 29.1 seconds left to play.
He scored those 50 points with a series of plays familiar to anyone who has seen him this season: he went to the free throw line often (he hit 15 from 17 on Friday); he didn’t settle for 3 points (he hit 1 from 2, but his attempts failed and he reached a career high percentage); and he was dominant inside the arc (he hit 16 from 25).
This combination of skills makes Embiid as versatile a scorer as anyone in the league, let alone a center. And, typically, he doesn’t hesitate to talk about it.
“That’s what makes me vulnerable,” Embiid said of his various offensive skills. “If you rush me, I’ll find my way to the free throw line or to the basket. If you back me up, I have a hessie – that swing shot – and my favorite, a pull up shot”. A simple cliché that I always take in the post.
“So it’s hard [to stop me] when you have so much. It’s hard to stop me when you have so many things, and just dribble the ball around and let it go. I added a lot to my game and it worked well.
He added that he hopes the changes he has made to his offense will help him better prepare for the playoffs, where teams tend to rely on perimeter scorers and Philadelphia – aside from its time with Jimmy Butler two years ago – usually does not.
“I’m excited because this is what you need for the playoffs,” Embiid said. “Especially when you play a team four to seven times and they schedule a game [against you]. Sometimes I have to work with others. Sometimes I have to pass, sometimes I have to understand and play double or triple team and you can’t defend those shots.
“You can’t retire.” You can’t keep practicing. I think this shooting will help me play for the next 10 to 15 years.”
With the win, Rivers secured the chance to lead Kevin Durant’s team to next month’s All-Star Game, as Philadelphia holds the best record in the Eastern Conference after this weekend’s games.
But Rivers was less impressed with it than with Embiid’s dominant performance.
“Well, you know, I’ll try not to get in trouble,” Mr. Rivers said, laughing. “I’m really happy for our team that we’re in this position. I think I’ll just stop here. I think it would be wise.
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