12:33 P.M. (EASTERN TIME).
Joel Embiid was aware of the situation his Philadelphia 76ers found themselves in on Tuesday night against host Miami Heat.
For the third straight game and the second night of two consecutive games – and that was before the two available Philadelphia players, Ben Simmons and Tyrese Maxey, were eliminated – it would have been easy for the Sixers to turn the corner.
Embiid, however, had other ideas.
Thanks to a dominant second half – in which he scored 35 of his 45 points, the best score of the season, as well as 16 rebounds, four assists and five steals, surpassing only Charles Barkley in final stats in a Sixers uniform – Embiid was able to carry the Sixers across the finish line with a 137-134 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid said of his performance, which included an 11-point streak for the Sixers, was to start from the basket with 3.3 seconds left in regulation time before he hit a mid-level jumper at 2:03 of the end of overtime. We needed him tonight.
We’ve lost three games in a row. Our mentality should always be that we never lose two games in a row and we lose three games in a row, he explained, so there was no chance we would lose four games in a row. Whatever I had to do and whatever my teammates had to do, we did it and we won.
The fact that Philadelphia broke its losing streak and returned to the win column was largely due to Embiid – something that didn’t seem to happen between the two halves. Embiid had 10 points and seven rebounds at the half, but he wasn’t involved – though he did more than Simmons, who struggled after missing the last two games with a swollen left knee. Simmons committed five turnovers in the first half and finished with five points and 12 assists in 32 minutes with six turnovers.
But while Simmons struggled, Embiid came out of the break possessed. Embiid scored 20 points in the third quarter alone to begin tipping the game in Philadelphia’s direction. He warmed up the team, thanks in part to a slight adjustment by Sixers coach Doc Rivers, who passed the ball to him at various points on the floor.
We put it in the middle of the floor, Rivers said, because every time we put it under the free throw line, as long as he throws it, that’s where they come from.
I thought [Miami] was really struggling with where to put traps or who to put traps on; also, Joel could see when people were catching him and where to throw the ball, so it’s a good lineup.
But] he wanted us to have this game tonight, Embiid’s coach said.
This was especially true when Simmons and Maxie were fighting. Embiid had the ball in his hands on almost every kick on the field, with Rivers essentially turning the ball over to make the center of the ball.
According to Rivers, the Sixers played essentially the same game – called Do, which Philadelphia accidentally set up on Tuesday morning during the penalty shootout – out of necessity for much of the fourth quarter and into overtime because the playmakers were out of the game because of a fight between them.
Sometimes life is a joy, Rivers says with a laugh. We laughed on the couch. … It’s amazing. We’re working on it today and she’s saving our lives.
As for Embiid, he was very happy to get his hands on the ball.
Play center, point guard or whatever you want to call it, it’s fun for me, he said. It’s working fine.
For Embiid, who has never hesitated to express his feelings, part of the second-half push could come from frustration within the NBA as the Sixers continued to play undermanned. It was the third game in a row where the Sixers lost on several key issues after several players were placed under the league’s health and safety protocol after Seth Curry tested positive in Brooklyn last week.
After the NBA cancelled the Heat’s game against the Boston Celtics on Sunday – a day after the Sixers lost to the Denver Nuggets at home with only seven healthy players – Embiid has tweeted that they hate the process, which could be considered an NBA coup for not doing the same for his team the day before.
When asked after Tuesday’s game if Philadelphia should have played, Embiid didn’t hesitate to answer.
No, he says. Seems like all the other games get cancelled all the time. But us, I think the league just lets us play. There is no other explanation, especially for the Denver game where we had to dress an injured player to make sure we had enough players to participate, while other teams didn’t have that many players and the league didn’t force any of them to dress an injured player to make sure the game would take place.
So it’s sad, but it’s next. We can’t complain about that. Wins always count, losses always count, we all need to get those wins. We have to keep fighting until the guys come back, and that’s our job.
Another point of motivation for Embiid this season was neglected by last year’s All-NBA teams. Embiid said he deserved to be named one of the top three centers in the league and was motivated to prove people wrong to keep him this season.
After Tuesday’s game, Embiid is averaging over 26 points and 12 rebounds per game this season. When asked if he was still motivated by last season’s honor, he said he would take care of it as long as the Sixers keep winning this season.
Yes, but that’s not what I’m focusing on, he said. The main goal is to win the championship. As for the individual prizes, this can’t happen if you don’t win any matches. So I’m mostly worried about winning.
Because at the end of the day, if I win, if we win and finish first, there’s no reason why I can’t be part of the MVP, defensive player of the year, All-NBA team and all that.
It all comes down to the same thing: Win, he added. But the main goal is to win the championship. We’re trying to prepare for what’s next, for the playoffs and [to] get to this level. So, like I said, it all comes down to winning.