Traditionally, the phrase “no medals for valor” can be applied to sports franchises. You either lose or win a given game. You either capture the championship or don’t; however, the 76ers have been an atypical franchise for the last half-decade. Pin a medal on Joel Embiid for making it through his first organized basketball game in over two years while standing on his two (healthy) legs. An encouraging performance, rust mixed with flashes of brilliance, from Embiid was, as his teammate Dario Saric once said, “the cherry on the cake” for the Sixers’ during their 92-89 win against the Celtics in their preseason opener.
Embiid began his NBA debut with three missed shots and a turnover, not surprising for a guy whose last meaningful minutes came in March 2014 against Oklahoma State. With a less than a minute left in the first quarter, Embiid displayed the talent that made him the number-three pick in the 2014 draft. He hit the Celtics’ defense with a Dream Shake-lite move in the post, spinning around for a two-point basket. Next possession down the court, Embiid knocked down a 23-footer with his foot on the three-point line. Four points. No broken bones. A successful first quarter was in the books for the Sixers.
Joel Embiid flashing the range. He's 7-foot-2. https://t.co/mChbUXwq6n— Jake Hyman (@RealJakeHyman) October 4, 2016
Embiid’s first quarter performance with a swat of Celtics lottery pick Jaylen Brown in the second.
Just about 10 minutes into his NBA career, Embiid was already drawing double teams in the second quarter, a welcoming sign for his progress.
Embiid finished with a stat line of 13 minutes played, six points (two for six from the field), four rebounds, two blocks, three turnovers, and, most importantly, no injuries. As much as Embiid dazzled momentarily, Saric looked like the Sixers’ most competent and consistent player on the court. The Homie knocked two threes, including the team’s first basket, on his way to 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and four turnovers in 18 minutes.
While it’s just one simple preseason game, Saric’s ability to run the floor in transition, hit threes, and stylishly dish out the rock, all skills that stood out for him in international play, were on display. His connection in the second half with Nerlens Noel, while Embiid was resting and Jahlil Okafor sat out with an injured knee, proved most effective, as he dropped the ball off nicely around the rim for quick finishes from Noel (six points on three of five shooting).
I’d be remiss not to mention the fine evening Brandon Paul had, scoring 15 points in just 13 minutes, guiding the Sixers’ second-half surge. Paul’s performance gives Bryan Colangelo and Brett Brown a decision to make in terms of keeping him and possibly cutting bubble roster candidates Nik Stauskas and Hollis Thompson.
The final score of this game? It means nothing. The instances where Embiid and Saric illustrated why they were lottery picks and can be cornerstones for this franchise? Those mean everything.