Heading into Wednesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers were well-rested, able to take the floor as a complete roster for presumably the first time ever, and facing a Washington Wizards team with just three wins on the season. You might have assumed the Sixers would dominate on their way to an easy win.
But you know what they say happens when you assume? The Sixers play poorly.
Philadelphia missed its first thousand or so three-point attempts and the team defense’s Uber got lost on the way to the way to 30th Street Station and missed the train ride down to D.C. In the end, the Sixers needed Joel Embiid’s first 50-point performance of the season to narrowly edge the Wizards, 131-126.
After the game, Embiid, who also recorded 13 rebounds and seven assists, spoke to his team needing his aggressiveness on the offensive end:
“Sometimes your team needs you to play make, sometimes they need your scoring. It was one of those nights where I really had to be aggressive and get it going. They made the passes, made the right plays every single time, and I just finished them.”
Joel is being overly modest with the ‘they made the passes and I just finished them’ talk. Here he is methodically working against a double team and nailing a one-legged fadeaway jumper from 17 feet to essentially seal the game. It isn’t exactly being spoonfed two points off terrific ball movement:
Asked about the need to propel his team over the finish line, Embiid added the following:
“That’s what I had to do — attacking and being aggressive. Especially in those situations, it’s not always about taking the shot. It’s about drawing two. I knew the whole game that they were doubling. It’s all about making the right play — baiting the other team to double and make the right play.”
Teammates were more willing to apply credit to Joel’s prodigious effort. Asked about Embiid’s 50-point game, Tyrese Maxey laughingly said, “He should’ve had 60.” Maxey then expanded upon Embiid casually delivering down the stretch:
“That’s our safety valve — offensively, defensively. That’s why he’s the MVP, to be honest with you. He covers up for a lot of our mistakes defensively. And then offensively, sometimes he can bail us out late in the clock and make some shots. He was good tonight. He was aggressive from the jump. I’m glad he was; he had about 17 days off. (Laughs.) Nah, he was great, man. He’s really good. He’s really good at basketball.”
Backcourt mate De’Anthony Melton echoed Tyrese’s sentiments:
“It was a quiet 50. [Maxey: “Facts.”]
He was just going out there and effortlessly shooting the ball and scoring. [Maxey: “I just feel like he wasn’t dominant enough — maybe should’ve had 60.”]
Kelly Oubre, Jr., making his own return from a rib injury, was asked about being able to focus in more once some of the emotions wore off, and praised Joel unprompted:
“Yeah, when you’ve got a guy going for 75 points, potentially, you’re definitely settled in. JoJo kind of put us all on his back, allowed us to settle in and let us know that he’s got us whenever we have our little slumps. But when he’s not in the game, that was kind of time to turn it up, turn it on, and I think we did that tonight.”
Ultimately, Wednesday night was one of those nights reminding us not to take Joel Embiid for granted. The team was floundering on both ends of the court and could have easily slid into one of those losses that are bitterly disappointing in the moment but you ultimately chalk up as inevitable during an 82-game season. However, as Maxey put it, Joel was the safety valve. With everything breaking down, he was able to relieve the pressure and allow the Sixers’ operation to run smoothly (enough) to victory.