After watching Joel Embiid gathered its latest dominant performance for the Philadelphia 76ers – 50 points, best of career, with 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks and just 2 turns in 35 minutes to overtake them in the visiting team Chicago buffaloes on Friday night – Tobias Harris said he will never play with someone better in his career.
“I will tell my kids one day that I played with Joel Embiid,” said Harris after scoring 22 points in the 112-105 victory. “When they ask me who is the best player I have ever played with, I will say Joel Embiid. It is an honor to be there with him on the track.”
Embiid, one of the MVP’s favorites, looked like the prize candidate in his play against the Bulls. On a night when Ben Simmons was not available for a second consecutive game due to illness, the Sixers needed all the help they could get from their superstar center. And, as he did so many times this season, he delivered.
After entering the fourth period with 37 points and 11 rebounds, Embiid continued his dominance in the final stretch – culminating in an absurd jump in the corner with 41.3 seconds remaining that pushed the Philadelphia leadership to 109-103, officially eliminating a Bulls team who managed to stay all night.
But when Embiid turned and looked at the empty stands inside the Wells Fargo Center, he raised his arms with a smile on his face. And while fans who would normally praise him continue to watch from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was little doubt about Embiid’s comfort level not just tonight, but throughout the season in Philadelphia.
“It looks like the game has slowed for me,” said Embiid when asked why he has been so dominant in a season where he now averages 30.5 points, the highest in his career, with 11 rebounds and 3.5 assists. . “I will say that the only difference this year compared to last year is not so much about training; it’s more about me being willing to just master every minute I’m on the floor. Last year, I was going through a difficult period; it just wasn’t there. And also the movements that [new Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey] done, adding up to all that shooting, is also helping a lot.
“But, as I said, it’s not about training, it’s about me turning a corner and being willing to do it every night in defense and attack.”
The Bulls were the only ones to receive the abuse on Friday night. While guarding Zach LaVine – that Embiid said he should be an All-Star when the reserves were named – ended with 30 points, he did that while going just 9-to-28 on the field, something that several Sixers credited for the work that Embiid did inside and second- guard of the year Matisse Thybulle did on the perimeter.
Meanwhile, the Sixers needed each of Embiid’s points to hold Chicago thanks to Simmons’ absence. Embiid, Harris and Danny Green (13 points) added 85 points between them and were the only Sixers to finish the game in double digits. Embiid defined his career on the rise by dividing a pair of free throws 29.1 seconds from the end.
He got those 50 points with a variety of moves that became familiar to everyone who saw him this season: go to the free throw line a ton (he did 15 out of 17 on Friday); not settling for 3 points (he was 1 to 2, but his attempts are low and he is shooting at a high percentage in his career); and he was dominant within the arc (he was 16 to 25).
It is a combination of skills that makes Embiid a scorer as versatile as anyone in the league, let alone the centers. And, typically, he is not ashamed to say that.
“This is what makes me helpless,” said Embiid of his various offensive skills. “If you’re going to surround me, I’m going to find my way to the free-throw line or I’m going to end up in the basket. If you go back, I have hesi – that hesitation making – and my favorite, just pull up. [That’s] just an easy shot that I always get on the pole.
“So it’s difficult [to stop me] when you have so much. And also outside the dribble just dribbling the ball and making things happen. I have added a lot to my game and it has worked well. “
He added that he hopes that the changes he made to his offensive game will make him better prepared for the challenge of scoring in the playoffs, when teams typically rely on perimeter scorers to lead the way and when Philadelphia – out of their league Jimmy Butler two years ago – usually faltered at that end.
“I’m excited because that’s what you need in the playoffs,” said Embiid. “Especially when you are going to play against a team four to seven times and they go according to the game plan [against you]. Sometimes, you know, I will have to shoot double teams. Sometimes I have to pass, sometimes I have to find that out and play in double and triple teams and those kinds of kicks that you can’t protect.
“You cannot defend a step back. You cannot defend a hit-and-shoot shot. I think it will be very useful, and I think these shots will help me play for the next 10 years. 15 years.”
The victory, in turn, ensured that Rivers would remain in charge of Kevin Durantnext month’s All-Star Game, with Philadelphia setting the best Eastern Conference record by the end of this weekend’s games.
Rivers, however, was less enthusiastic about this than Embiid’s dominant performance.
“Well, you know, I’ll try not to get in trouble,” said Rivers with a laugh. “I am very happy for our team to be in this position. I think I will stop there. I think it would be wise.”
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