Joel Embiid knew the situation his Philadelphia 76ers were in Tuesday night against the visiting Miami Heat.
Playing the short hand for the third game in a row and the second night in a back-to-back – and that was before Philadelphia’s two available point guards, Ben Simmons and Tyrese Maxey, showed ̵
Embiid, however, had other ideas.
Thanks to a dominant second half – where he scored 35 of his season high 45 points to go along with 16 rebounds, four assists and five steals to a final state line only Charles Barkley has matched in Sixers uniform in nearly half a century – Embiid was able to pull the Sixers over the finish line when they got a 137-134 overtime win at the Wells Fargo Center.
“It was necessary,” Embiid said of his performance, which included an 11-point stretch for the Sixers, from the basket that played, with 3.3 seconds to go into regulation, until he hit a midrange jumper with 2:03 to go in over time. “We needed it tonight.”
“We lost three games in a row. Our mentality should always be, we should never lose two games in a row and we lost three in a row,” he explained, “so there was no chance we would lose four in a row. “So what I had to do and what my teammates had to do, we did it and we won.”
That Philadelphia snatched its losing streak and came back in the winning column was largely Embiid’s do – something that didn’t look like it was on the verge of happening at the break. Embiid had 10 points and seven rebounds at the break, but he was not exactly involved – though he did more than Simmons, who struggled heavily after missing the previous two games with left knee swelling. Simmons committed five turnovers in the first half and eventually finished out with five points and 12 assists to go with six turnovers in 32 minutes.
But while Simmons was fighting, Embiid came out of the break a man had. Embiid scored 20 points in the third quarter alone to start swinging the game back in Philadelphia’s direction and putting the team on its back thanks to some adjustment from Sixers coach Doc Rivers to get him the ball in various places on the floor.
“We put him in the middle of the floor,” Rivers said, “because when we put him below the free throw line, as far as we throw it to him, they come from.
“I thought [Miami] really struggled and found where to trap or who to catch and it also allowed Joel to see when people caught him where to throw the ball so that’s a good adjustment. “
“[But] he wanted this game for us tonight, ”the coach said of Embiid.
That was especially the case when Simmons and Maxey wiped out. Embiid had the ball in his hands almost every turn down the field after that, where Rivers essentially utilized him as a points center.
Rivers said the Sixers essentially ran the same game – called “Delay,” a Philly had only installed Tuesday morning at the shootaround at random – out of necessity most of the fourth quarter and overtime because the center-backs snorted out.
“Sometimes life is luck,” Rivers said with a laugh. “We laughed on the bench … It’s amazing. We’re working on it today, and then it ends up being a savior for us.”
Embiid, meanwhile, was quite pleased with the chance to have the ball in his hands.
“Playing point center, point guard or whatever you want to call it, I enjoy it,” he said. “It has worked well.”
For Embiid, who has never been shy about making his feelings known, perhaps some of the second half’s wave came from a place of frustration over the NBA for having the Sixers continue to play the short hand. This was the third game in a row, the Sixers were down several key components after getting a number of players into the league’s health and safety protocols in the wake of Seth Curry testing positive last week in Brooklyn.
After the NBA postponed the Heat’s game against the Boston Celtics on Sunday – a day after the Sixers had only seven healthy players available for a loss at home to the Denver Nuggets – Embiid tweeted, “THEY HATE THE PROCESS” in what could be seen as a shot in the arm. NBA for not doing the same for his team the day before.
Asked after Tuesday’s match whether Philly should have played, Embiid did not hesitate with his answer.
“No,” he said. “It seems like every other game keeps getting canceled. But us, I guess the league just makes us play. There really is no other explanation behind it, especially the Denver game when we were have to dress an injured player just to make sure we had enough players to compete – while other teams that have not had as many players and the league have not had any of them dress an injured player , just to make sure there’s a game in progress.
“So it’s unfortunate, but it’s the next man up. You can not complain about it. Wins still count, losses still count; we have to get all these victories. We have to keep fighting until those guys are back, and that’s our job. “
Another motive for Embiid this season has been left out of last year’s All-NBA team. Embiid was outspoken that he felt he deserved to be named one of the top three centers in the league and he was motivated to prove that people were wrong to leave him from this season.
After Tuesday’s match, Embiid now has an average of over 26 points and 12 rebounds per game. Fight this campaign so far. And when asked if he’s still picking up motivation from last season’s award, he said he was – while adding that it will take care of itself, provided the Sixers continue to win this season.
“That’s it, but that’s not what I’m focusing on,” he said. “The main goal is to win a championship. When it comes to individual prizes, that can not happen unless you win games. So the most important thing I’m worried about is winning.
“Because at the end of the day, if I win, if we win and we get the first seed, there’s no way you know I should not be in the MVP, Defensive Player Talks of the Year, All- NBA first team and all that. “
“It all goes back to the same thing: winning,” he added. “But the main goal is to win the championship; we’re trying to get ready for what’s to come, the playoffs and [getting] to that level. So as I said, it all goes back to winning. “