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Sixers 108, Nets 107: Joel Embiid Is a Superstar

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Reporters were sick of Sam Hinkie. After two years of the press complaining about a lack of access to the Sixers’ GM, the sudden trade of Michael Carter-Williams had whipped the press corps into a frenzy. They had sharpened their knives and were hoping to expose Hinkie for the fraud they found him to be. Out of that press conference, one answer stood out to me above them all.

A reporter asked how Hinkie would know when the rebuilding process is complete and he has the right players in place.

“We’ll all know.”

A pause, and then an iteration: “We’ll all know.”

We all know now.

Joel Embiid is that player and he put the world on notice tonight, in possibly the best game of his sterling early career. The Sixers trailed the Nets by 3 points going into the 4th quarter, and Embiid decided to put them on his back and earn that W. The big man scored a career high 33 points in 27 minutes on 12-17 shooting. He went 2-3 from beyond the arc and continues to prove the shot is for real. He supplemented the scoring with 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, outstanding defense, 1 assist, and another 3 shoulda-been-assists.

He strapped the team onto his back and won this game single-handedly tonight. After a frustrating first half in which he was shoehorned into awkward 2-center lineups far too often with Jahlil Okafor, he came out swinging in the 3rd quarter, playing incredibly aggressively on both sides of the ball. He scored 17 points in the period and was the fulcrum for everything the team did on offense.

On D, he trapped by the sideline 30 feet from the hoop and scampered back under the hoop to stop any easy looks at the rim. He owned the game from end to end. From his entrance to end the third quarter until he was subbed out 3 minutes into the 4th, the Sixers went on an impressive run from down 3 to up 6. They led until the end of the game.

Embiid is a superstar, and we all know.

There were complaints from some in the media after Hinkie’s MCW presser that, “We’ll all know,” was his way of blowing off the question, of preferring to be arcane to thoroughly answering the question. The reality was that he was telling the truth. When you have The Guy, that franchise-changing superstar, you don’t need to ask. Everyone will know and you won’t have to ask to find out.

The Sixers and their fans all know. Embiid is that guy and he’s showing it off for the world to see. Hinkie may not be here to reap the fruits of his labor, but his orchard is blooming.

Some stray thoughts:

  • The Sixers being the Sixers, they nearly found a way to blow the game despite having a serious advantage in the closing minute. After Covington and Ilyasova both hit free throws to put the Sixers up 4, twice they immediately allowed open 3’s to the Nets to cut the lead to 1. On the final play, with 2.5 seconds left, they were unsuccessful inbounding the ball and had to call an extra timeout to avoid a turnover. On the final possession, Gerald Henderson bizarrely opted to throw the ball towards the Nets basket, and badly overthrew Embiid, nearly resulting in an open layup for the Nets. Embiid barely touched the ball, but his contact allowed the clock to start running, and time ran out before anyone could control possession. The Sixers won in the most Sixers’ way imaginable.
  • Embiid didn’t just do his best Billy Crudup impression during the game, he also added some quintessential ‘Biidhavior that can only continue to endear him to this city. Perhaps best was a bizarre sequence in the 3rd quarter, where he missed an open dunk, but immediately scored the follow-up layup. Following the make, he shushed the crowd as if to tell them to forget it had even happened. This guy is just the best.

Embiid also dove into the stands for the ball after a near steal (would have been his third!) and ended his night by signing a ball and punting it into the stands. May his reign last forever.

  • Brook Lopez had himself a game, scoring 22 points, with 9 boards, 8 assists, and 4 blocked shots. After dominating the first half to the tune of 19 boards, Embiid limited his efficacy in the second, turning him into more of a facilitator than a scorer. If Okafor could pass and protect the rim as well as Lopez can, he would have far more potential as a longterm piece on this team.
  • Speaking of Okafor, he was a complete disaster. If he’s unable to score, he doesn’t have any business being on the court. And tonight, he shot 0-10 from the field for a total of 3 points. If he’s going to be abused in the pick and roll on defense, shut down the offense, bring his defender under the hoop, and stall out the offense, he damn well better be scoring in order to deserve playing time. An outing like tonight is absolutely unacceptable. If you can’t score on Luis Freaking Scola, what are you even doing on the court?

It’s made worse by the absurd clown show of the Sixers’ front office today. The fact that Nerlens Noel has been effectively benched while Jahlil Okafor continues to receive entitlement minutes that drag the team down is an outright farce. That the team justifies the decision by saying it has to do with “our pursuit to win games” makes it even more ridiculous. Through two years, Noel has demonstrated an efficacy to the team, and has a proven record of improving the team’s defense without appreciably worsening its offense. To tell this fanbase that his benching is due to basketball reasons while their actions clearly indicate the opposite is to infantilize us and to disrespect our intellect.

  • If it’s so hard to find minutes for Noel and Okafor due to the Sixers’ frontcourt logjam, why do they continue to insist on playing stretches with Ersan Ilyasova manning the middle? Surely, Brown and Colangelo can’t truly believe Ilyasova is a better defensive presence than Nerlens Noel.
  • Since we’re here anyway, I’d like to refer back to the passage at the beginning of this recap— the media fucking skewered Hinkie for his unavailability. Howard Eskin called him “Where’s Waldo” Hinkie and everyone whined constantly that Brown was the only mouthpiece for the front office. This was justified at times, but mostly a load of horse crap. After that same media fawned all over MAN OF ACTION Bryan Colangelo, it would be great to see some consistency in what they claim to care about. Colangelo has butchered this situation with Noel, has destroyed any semblance of trade leverage, and will almost certainly have to settle for a terrible trade. We haven’t heard from him once this season. Instead, he trots out Brett Brown to cover his ass and talk about how difficult the situation is. It would be great to hear from the man who has exacerbated it at every moment, but the media seems to somehow have lost their appetite for press conferences. This whole situation is a mockery.
  • The Okafor-Embiid pairing played fewer minutes together tonight, but it’s still unclear why the team is bothering to experiment with it at all. Embiid clearly dislikes needing to share the court with Okafor and Okafor obviously limits Embiid’s impact on both sides of the court. There’s no advantage to playing the two, and if Noel is going to remain benched, it serves no purpose in freeing up additional minutes at the 5. Okafor should back Embiid up and play as a true 5 surrounded by 4 non-centers.
  • Speaking of players being played out of position, Brown’s insistence on playing Dario at the 3 is a huge problem too. With Noel out of the picture, Dario should be getting all his minutes at the 4. Playing him out of position to accommodate Ersan Ilyasova is so incredibly short-sighted. Give Dario his minutes where he deserves them.
  • Covington has developed into a top tier perimeter defender. His hands are so active that he constantly disrupts plays even when he doesn’t create a steal. He’s slowly developing into more than we could ever have hoped when Hinkie grabbed him off the scrap heap two years ago.
  • Colangelo’s prized veterans continue to contribute little of value to the team. In addition to Henderson’s nearly blowing the game on a horrible inbounds pass, Rodriguez was awful, going 3-11 from the field and showing a complete inability to penetrate. Ilyasova gunned, because Ilyasova is a gunner. There’s no reason that Luwawu shouldn’t be getting 10 minutes a game, and it was frustrating to see Brooklyn’s wing rotation include four young guys (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Isaiah Whitehead), while the Sixers’ had only vets.

Dario struggled to score again today, but he played hard (as he always does), and had a nifty little passing sequence with Embiid during JoJo’s scorching hot 3rd quarter.

  • This was a really fun game. Colangelo and his horrific player management (you know, the only reason the team gave for hiring him) have made this week a shitshow, but when you’ve got Embiid, it tends to help with the bad. We’ve got a real superstar, and all we’ve got to do now is watch him grow.

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