Takeaways From Embiid’s MVP-Caliber Performance vs. Heat
The Miami Heat were woefully shorthanded, down nine players, including two All-Stars. The Sixers, who dressed just 10 players, had both of their All-Stars back in the lineup.
What looked like a game they should be able to win going away, turned into Joel Embiid putting the Sixers on his back in a 137-134 overtime win at Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night.
Here are takeaways from a Herculean effort by Embiid.
Let’s state it plainly: This was MVP-caliber stuff from Joel Embiid.
The Sixers were lifeless in the first half. They trailed 63-58 at halftime and looked out of sync on both ends. Even Embiid admitted postgame that he was “just going through the motions.” He had 10 points but took just seven shots.
In the third, Embiid woke up. The All-Star center went supernova, scoring 20 points and going 8 of 8 from the floor in the quarter. There was nothing the Heat could do. Erik Spoelstra doubled him, tripled him, and played a zone. Embiid busted it all.
Doc Rivers noted an important adjustment the team made in getting Embiid the ball – one they implemented during shootaround.
“You know, sometimes life is luck,” Rivers said. “We worked on this play today before shootaround. It’s called ‘delay,’ where we throw it to the middle, which is Joel, and he becomes your point guard on the plays. I didn’t know we were gonna run it entirely for the fourth quarter and overtime. We had no choice but to run it.
“It’s funny. We were laughing on the bench. It’s amazing. We work on it today, and then it ends up being a savior for us.”
In the fourth, Embiid took just three shots as both teams struggled from the field. The Sixers appeared to be out of time, trailing by five with 32.3 seconds left. Then, a wild sequence transpired. Rookie Isaiah Joe hit a big three. While applying full-court pressure, Danny Green came up with a steal. After Green missed two three-point attempts in the waning seconds, Embiid was fouled by Kelly Olynyk with 7.1 seconds left.
That set up Embiid to be the hero as he drained a long two-point jumper to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, Embiid was preposterous. Much like in the third, he couldn’t be stopped. There were possessions where the entire Miami defense swarmed him. He was hitting shots while basically playing 1-on-5. Add to it the fact that the Sixers didn’t have a point guard with Ben Simmons and Tyrese Maxey both fouling out at the end of regulation.
Embiid was otherworldly.
“It’s hard being limited to being a post player in this league, especially with the way they guard me,” Embiid said. “They’re going to front me, they’re going to send double, triple, quadruple-teams. It can get frustrating at times, especially if we’re not making shots. I think the last few games a different part of my game has been open. I’ve always had it, but the last two games I’ve had to do it, and it’s been working well. I’m enjoying it. Just playing point center, point guard or -- whatever you want to call it – point forward.”
The other All-Star
Part of the reason the Sixers needed this kind of effort from Embiid is that Simmons struggled mightily. Returning after missing the previous two games with knee swelling, Simmons turned in one of the rougher performances of his young career.
While Simmons has had issues in the past with a lack of aggressiveness and his unwillingness to shoot, this game was the most exaggerated version of that. So many possessions came to a screeching halt with Simmons getting to the free throw area, picking up his dribble, and having nowhere to go with the ball. The half-court was especially stymied when Spoelstra deployed a zone and Simmons shared the court with Embiid.
It was also troubling to see Simmons struggle on the defensive end. He found himself out of position and a step behind often. That’s part of what caused him to foul out with 3:29 left in the game.
You don’t want to overreact to one game – especially when the Sixers were still at less than full strength and Simmons missed the last two games – but there are worrying trends. Rivers and Sam Cassell haven’t had much time to work with Simmons, all things considered. If things look like this after the “All-Star break,” that would be suboptimal.
Of course, the possibility of a James Harden trade is real. Harden clearly wants out of Houston. How long is Daryl Morey willing to let the Embiid-Simmons pairing play out? There is zero indication Morey is in any hurry. Stay tuned.
The supporting cast
It was good to see Danny Green, who played just a tick under 50 minutes, bounce back after an 0-for-9 performance in Atlanta. Before going 9 of 21(!) from three Tuesday, Green had hit 2 of his last 14 from three. There are a couple of important things to understand. One is that Green is an excellent role player. To be that he needs a superstar like Embiid to feed off of. Also, shooters are streaky in general. Throughout his career, Green has been one of the streakiest.
All the rookies looked like rookies, but they all had their moments. Tyrese Maxey continues to show signs that he could be a player that helps the Sixers in the present and future. He probably shouldn’t be playing 37 minutes a game as he has over his last three, but his efforts have been impressive. He struggled from the field and defensively Tuesday but did dish out a rookie career-high eight assists.
The other rookie that has stood out is Joe. While getting extended minutes over his last three games, Joe has hit 39.3 percent from three on 9.3 attempts. Taken in the second round as a sharpshooter, Joe has lived up to that reputation. His decision making and adjustment to the speed of the game has been impressive.
There are still things Joe needs to improve on, particularly defensively where he had a few rough moments Tuesday. But overall, he’s showing promise. With added strength and more experience, Joe has the makings of a rotational NBA player.