To borrow a quote from former Sixers player and coach Doug Collins, the Sixers simply got Joel Embiid the ball and got the [bleep] out of the way down the stretch of Monday’s 108-103 win over the Celtics.
It’s clear that Embiid is the Sixers’ closer and crushing narratives along the way.
Let’s get all the familiar tropes out of the way before we begin.
He’s out of shape and doesn’t care!
Ahead of last season, Embiid hired a world-class dietician. He came into that camp in the best shape of his career, a big part of the reason he finished second in MVP voting. The way he’s handled the ongoing Ben Simmons saga is an example of his maturation and growth as a leader. He’s locked in.
He misses too many games!
Embiid does miss games, but the idea that he sits an inordinate amount compared to the rest of the league is just silly. Before this season, Embiid played in 102 games in the previous two. In that same timeframe, Jimmy Butler played in 110 games. Kawhi Leonard played in 109. Anthony Davis played in 98. Karl-Anthony Towns 85.
Nikola Jokic — who’s missed five games this season — playing the entire slate last year is the exception, not the rule when it comes to the NBA’s stars. Most of them play between 100 and 120 games. Embiid is right there.
Your closer can’t be a post player!
Currently, Embiid is doing his damndest to prove this one wrong.
The detractors have a fair argument here. Post players are easier to double team late in games. As we’ve seen, teams either aggressively double team Embiid or pay the price. Monday night was a perfect example as Embiid scorched Enes Freedom when they went 1-on-1. When guarded by Freedom, Embiid scored 38 points on 14 of 25 from the field and also got to the line (9 of 10).
With that said, Embiid’s biggest and most ridiculous basket came when a double team showed up.
A pessimist would say that’s not a good shot and further proof of why Embiid can’t be a closer. An optimist would say that closers are expected to create and make difficult shots, even in the face of double teams.
“What we talk about with him every day is make or miss, just get your shot,” Doc Rivers told reporters in Boston. “Get the shot you want, and I thought he did that.”
As long as Embiid thinks it’s a good shot and he makes it, does anything else really matter?
“It wasn’t a tough shot. That’s a shot that we work on every single day,” Embiid told reporters. “So, that’s a shot — I just didn’t pull it out of nowhere. We worked on it so many times. I actually had a similar shot last year against Boston in Philly — step-back in that corner. So, that’s a shot I had to take. I drove on him and I saw the double team coming. And at that point, there had been a couple of times where I got doubled and we didn’t cut quick enough and I had no passing lanes, ending up turning the ball over. So, in that situation, I thought I had a good angle and I had been making shots. I thought it was a great shot.”
So far this season, Embiid has come through more than he’s not. He’s averaging 6.3 points a game in “clutch” situations. “Clutch” situations are defined as the last five minutes of a game when a team is leading or trailing by five points or fewer, according to NBA.com. The next-highest player on the list is LeBron James at 4.8 points a game. Embiid is also shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three in those situations.
Overall, Embiid finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks. He accomplished that stat line for the third time in his career. Since blocks became an official stat in 1973-74, the only player with more such games is some guy named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (4), per ESPN Stats & Info.
Though he committed five turnovers, Embiid’s progress as a passer is noticeable. He’s “quarterbacking the gym,” as Brett Brown used to say, at an expert level. He’s averaging 4.4 assists game, which would easily be a career-high mark. He’s averaging 2.7 turnovers, which would easily be a career-low mark.
Embiid has been more comfortable and competent grabbing the rebound and pushing the ball up the floor this season. Without a true point guard available Monday night, that ability came in handy.
Embiid dishing. Matisse hOOPing. pic.twitter.com/CLQdbVzuAf— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 21, 2021
Seth Curry (26 points) and Tobias Harris (25 points) proved to be a strong supporting cast in Boston. Though the All-Star center could use a bit more help — perhaps via a trade involving a certain 6-foot-10 Australian.
But as long as the Sixers get Embiid the ball and get the [bleep] out of the way to close games, they have a chance against anyone.
All quotes via the NBA Content Network.