It’s easy to look at the box score and conclude that Joel Embiid had a terrific night in Cleveland Wednesday. The big man had a game-high 36 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks in a 118-109 win over the Cavs.
The advanced stats also paint a dominant picture. Embiid’s true shooting percentage was a ridiculous 76.9. Not only did he contest shots at the rim (5.5 block percentage, 92 percentile, per Cleaning the Glass), but he also swallowed Cleveland’s misses (35.1 defensive rebound percentage, 93rd percentile).
It was the Sixers’ sixth straight win amidst their most difficult stretch of the season. Since an injury-marred 12-12 start, they’re 34-10, the best mark in the NBA in that span. They’re tied in the loss column with the Celtics, with the two seed still very much in play. They’re also a half game better than the Nuggets ... if that type of thing matters to you.
But as dominant as the stat line and highlights make Embiid look, watching Wednesday night’s game shows you how impactful the MVP favorite(?)(!) is beyond traditional or advanced stats.
Embiid’s two-way play over the last couple weeks has been spectacular. It’s almost forgotten that Embiid was a Defensive Player of the Year finalist not all that long ago. He’s looked like that player of late.
Less than a minute into the game in Cleveland, Embiid set the tone with a sensational block on Evan Mobley. Embiid’s ability to help on Donovan Mitchell and then recover to cleanly contest Mobley is as special as it gets.
And this sequence late in the second was just preposterous.
Embiid gets the ball in the corner with Isaac Okoro giving up the baseline so he can funnel Embiid to Mobley. Okoro and Mobley have a really good trap here. Embiid picks up his dribble in an awkward spot with no obvious outlet. This is simply elite shotmaking.
An absurd Joel Embiid sequence here. First is just great shotmaking against excellent defense. Okoro funnels Embiid to Mobley and they trap Embiid well. He's in an awkward spot with no obvious outlets (maybe could've hit Tobias in the corner?). No matter. pic.twitter.com/wbeBhag12D— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) March 16, 2023
One of the more notable improvements for Embiid this year is that he’s running up and down the floor much more frequently than he ever has. Part of it is that James Harden’s elite passing has incentivized him to do so, knowing that if he gets down the court and gets a seal, Harden will find him.
The other part is that he’s just physically able to do so. Maybe something that’s not talked about as much this year is that Embiid’s stamina has seemingly increased. Credit to him for taking care of his body and taking his diet more seriously.
After making that turnaround jumper over a double team, he busts it down the other end to wipe out an Okoro transition bucket.
One of the most notable things about Embiid this year: he's running his ass off up and down the floor. He makes that ridiculous shot and chases down Okoro on the other end. Two-way dominance. pic.twitter.com/cEk2qmlN9r— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) March 16, 2023
This next play is the most notable “you need to watch the games” moment from Embiid.
The never-shy Caris LeVert meets Embiid in the paint and decides to pass it off to Okoro. Okoro, having just seen that movie, decides to dribble out to the corner. He then dumps it down to Mobley on the block. Mobley winds up settling for a highly-contest, midrange fadeaway that comes up short.
Embiid wrecked Cavs’ possessions all night
No block, steal, rebound, bucket or dime from Embiid. But … pic.twitter.com/D3OLhPxIbP— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 16, 2023
This next play felt especially tide-turning.
Cleveland blitzed the Sixers to start the third, building up a 13-point lead and forcing a Doc Rivers timeout with a little over two minutes into the second half. The Sixers then went on an 18-1 run.
After a P.J. Tucker three, Donovan Mitchell was able to wiggle around Harris for a floater attempt. Embiid times it perfectly, snags the ball out of the air and quickly finds Harden who finds a streaking Tyrese Maxey for an easy bucket.
These types of sequences highlight part of the reason the Sixers have been able to make so many comebacks: Embiid’s elite rim protection, Harden’s elite vision on look-ahead passes and Maxey’s elite speed.
big block ➡️ transition two. pic.twitter.com/JvxT8z31Of— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 16, 2023
Embiid’s footwork has always been impressive, but this is Giannis-like in using two long strides to get to the rim. Embiid consumes as much NBA basketball as he possibly can, so it’s possible he saw the Greek Freak do this a time or two and added it to his bag.
Or maybe he saw something while watching every single Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan make.
Embiid's footwork has always been great but it seems like he's been doing this more frequently this year, using essentially two long strides to get to the rim. Maxey is progressing on these pocket passes too. pic.twitter.com/xopJv7NbrN— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) March 16, 2023
In the fourth quarter, Embiid made one of the most special defensive plays you’ll see.
Cedi Osman blows by Harris. Embiid is forced to leave Mobley uncovered to help at the rim. Osman makes the right play, passing it to Mobley for what should be an easy dunk. Instead, Embiid makes an outstanding recovery and a superhuman block.
This is unreal.
This block. Sheesh. Helping on Osman then recovering to block Mobley cleanly at the rim. Special stuff. pic.twitter.com/O6y1TQNJRY— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) March 16, 2023
Embiid’s impact late was mitigated a bit by picking up his fifth (and sixth, which was controversially overturned) foul, but he set the tone for the Sixers on both ends all night.
Joel Embiid was the best player on the floor Wednesday night in Cleveland. He’s been the best player on the floor for just about every game he’s played this season.
All you have to do is simply watch him play.