Embiid, back to normal, calls himself 'best in world'

Dave Uram
February 21, 2020 - 11:55 am
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Before the All-Star Break, it appeared Joel Embiid was getting his swagger back. He boasted that he’s returning doing and saying whatever he wants. Guess what—it’s working.

"I belong in being the best player in the world," Embiid said after carrying the Sixers to an unnecessarily close 112-104 overtime victory against the Nets Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center. The big guy dominated with a season-high 39 points on 10 of 20 from the floor, 18 of 19 from the foul line, while grabbing 16 rebounds and playing outstanding defense.

Embiid’s bold statement about the best player in the world was in reference to his 22 point All-Star Game performance, which followed 26 points-nine rebounds against the Clippers and 28 points-12 rebounds versus the Bulls.

He’s clearly on a good run, and this confidence isn’t a sign of arrogance or immaturity. It’s leadership that’s desperately needed on this team down the stretch. Embiid needs to have the mentality that he’s going to take over and do whatever necessary to win. Without him, the Ben Simmons-less 76ers would’ve lost to an inferior Brooklyn team that was fresh off of dealing with the news that their superstar, Kyrie Irving, was done for the season.

After building a 22-6 lead, the Sixers coughed it up allowing Brooklyn to go on a 44-8 run. The Nets led by 20. The boos from the Wells Fargo Center faithful became louder and louder. Brett Brown was running through timeouts. It was embarrassing and arguably their worst quarter of the season.

But, no shushing took place. Embiid came to the rescue.

“Joel Embiid was our bell ringer tonight for obvious reasons,” head coach Brett Brown said. “He was dominant.”

The Sixers center was dominant because, no matter what, Brooklyn couldn’t slow him down. He handled double teams well, created a variety of high percentage shots, went to work in the post, got fouled regularly and altered things defensively. The 20-point deficit vanished—once again turning boos into cheers.

“At halftime, we knew what we had to do,” Embiid said. “Come out and just be aggressive, especially on the defensive end, and for me just to do my thing.”

Embiid said it doesn’t matter if he gets three-second violations or offensive fouls from being on the block. He knows that’s where he needs to be a fair amount of time. And if Embiid keeps doing that “thing” he’s talking about, especially into a fairly difficult part of their schedule over the next couple of weeks, which starts with a game at the Bucks Saturday nigh, the 76ers are going to climb up the standings.

“I expect greatness from him,” Tobias Harris, who had 22 points Thursday, said. “I think we all do as a team…”

Heading into the weekend, they trail the Heat by one game in the loss column for fourth place. They’re four games behind Boston and five-and-a-half behind Toronto. Getting at least the fourth seed is critical, and certainly not impossible.

“First part of the season I was trying to make sure everybody was comfortable,” Embiid said. “Kind of took a step back, but if we gonna go somewhere, I got to be one of the guys, and it starts on defense.”

Thursday night wasn’t pretty by any stretch, but the way Embiid and the Sixers rallied should give you hope that a deep postseason run is in their future. And if that’s the case, a focused Embiid is going to be a problem for the elite of the East.