There is an easy story to tell here: “On the same day Nikola Jokic was appointed NBA MVP, Joel Embiid came out with the intention of showing why he should have ended at the top of the ballot. Doc Rivers, still a friend of the working press, even went ahead and fixed it.
After Game 2 against Atlanta on Tuesday, the 76ers coach recalled what it was like to be a member of Spurs 1994-95, to see David Robinson accept this season’s MVP trophy before the start of the World Cup final. Western Conference vs Rockets … then watch Hakeem Olajuwon absolutely destroy “the Admiral”, leading Houston to a six-game victory en route to its second straight NBA Championship. What “the Dream” did to Robinson in this series—stand out as unparalleled, even when placed in the context of another all-time greats, isn’t the kind of thing you forget, especially when you were in the front row.
“Tonight”, Rivers told reporters after watching Embiid score 40 points, a new career playoff record, in his team’s 118-102 win, “you felt like it was Joel.”
There are, however, a few issues with the easy story. On the one hand, Embiid’s opponent in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs isn’t the Jokic Nuggets; these are the Hawks, led by Supernatural playmaker and shit agitator Trae Young. (If we do get a Sixers-Nuggets final, however, my goodness, will this particular story be impossible to avoid.) For another… well, Embiid says he’s “disappointed” that he didn’t win but doesn’t seem at all interested in granting the premise.
Embiid (continued): “I don’t worry about these awards. If I hold this trophy (Larry O’Brien), nothing else will matter.” https://t.co/HJYyCzZo9O
– Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) June 9, 2021
I’m sure Embiid would have graciously accepted the MVP honors had he won them. But for a player who has missed 295 games since his 2014 draft, who suffered two serious knee injuries this season, including a meniscus tear less than two weeks ago, and who is operating at the height of his powers as the fulcrum of the first seed in the East, there are bigger prizes to hunt, and no time like the present to hunt them.
So we avoid the easy story and focus on an even simpler, but no less deep story: Embiid wants to win the whole damn thing. For this, he must come out of the second round. Make this, he had to get the 76ers out of the 0-1 hole they dug on Sunday. So, you know, he did.
Embiid was brilliant in Game 2, surpassing the 39 points he scored in Game 1 of this series – to go with 13 rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block to help Philly tie his streak with the Hawks have one game each. Game 3 is on Friday in Atlanta, where Hawks fans at State Farm Arena will surely greet Embiid as warmly as Philly fans did Young, and where Embiid, still the showman, will surely respond in the same way.
Joel Embiid on playing on the road in front of opposing fans:
“I like to silence them.”
– Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) June 9, 2021
Like almost every other team that Philadelphia has played this season, the Hawks have had no response for Embiid in two games. The 27-year-old torched Clint Capela, using his combination of physical bruises and ballet grace to shoot 15 for 27 from the ground against his Atlanta counterpart while also inflicting eight shooting faults on him, according to NBA Advanced Stats Match Data. Capela is the only real center in the Hawks’ roster. All other options, from forwards John Collins and Danilo Gallinari to rookie Onyeka Okongwu, are simply too small stand up to Embiid. And none of them can do much with Embiid’s fully armed face-up game, filled with an evil array of fakes, jab steps, pivots, and rips, all deployed to nab a defender. tilted precisely the wrong way at the wrong time. to give Joel precisely the look he wants.
The results were terribly impressive: 79 points on 46 shooting attempts and 31 free throws, good for absurdly efficiency. .662 true shooting percentage, in 73 minutes in total over two games. Again: Embiid tore her meniscus nine days ago.
Perhaps equally impressive, however, is what Embiid was able to do at the other end of the pitch in Game 2.
Young chopped up the Sixers in Game 1, getting to where he wanted to go in the pick-and-roll and logging 24 discs in basket. He scored 19 of his 35 points and provided five of his 10 assists on those lane forays, beating his man, mostly Danny Green, on the rebound, shooting assists and throwing a lob at Capela or by shooting a dart at a waiting shooter beyond the arc, fueling a hot-shot performance that saw the Hawks complete 20 of their 47 triple tries. The Sixers couldn’t just stay in their usual covers and allow Young to get all he wanted: practice for floats and lobs, kickout passes at the 3-point line, fouls and his own 3-point tries. They must have taken something.
So Doc turned things around, giving 6-foot-11 Defensive Player of the Year finalist Ben Simmons the primary assignment on the 6-foot-1 Young. When Simmons needed a break or wanted to give Young a different look, Doc turned to Matisse Thybulle, giving the young crackdown artist 24 minutes of floor time his biggest playoff workload. playoffs, for the express purpose of disturbing the leader of the Hawks. everywhere he went. Their length, athleticism and activity, combined with the Philly greats’ commitment to climb much higher on the ground, often at or near the level of the screens Atlanta intended for Young, helped to limit the amount of space he could play in, making it harder for him to get to the end of the lane, watch the ground or draw a precise bead on the rim as he climbs back up:
Behind those attacking point defenders, however, is Embiid, who did a masterful job in Game 2 as a cover quarterback. When Young beat his man to reach the lane, Embiid was there to stop the ball, get him out of the paint, and harass him around the perimeter. When Young got out of the ball and delegated one of his teammates to create, Embiid kept his balance, reassessed threat levels, and deterred a New potential conductor to test it with tin. He showed up on a 3-point arch screen, then recovered all the way to the rim to smash a lob at Capela. He backed up and tried to play cat and mouse, giving way as he kept Young from going to his float while also preventing the alley-oop until Young was deep enough into the paint. to be wrapped and pushed to cough the ball. He was massive, he was fast, he was everywhere:
The combination of looming threat from Embiid and ball pressure from Simmons, Thybulle and Green helped force Young to four turnovers and Atlanta to 17 as a team, which led to 28 Sixers points. “They just have big, long defenders,” Hawks goalie Kevin Huerter said. told reporters after the game. “They’ve got guys coming into the passing lanes, they’ve got guys reaching a lot, and we just need to take better care of the ball. We need to make better decisions.
This could extend to decisions about whether or not to push the bear. When Young and Capela did find their timing and reach, connecting for a lob directly over Embiid’s head, they let loose a few yawns and woofs about it:
In the possession that followed, Embiid immediately called the ball into the post, rushed Capela as an All-Pro edge rusher, returned the favor by throwing a right at Clint’s cruller, and quickly left him. hear about it all the way back to the yard (maybe in French):
It’s Embiid: unstoppable and unstoppable, unwilling to accept disrespect without giving more than his fair share, extremely ready to accept the challenge of crushing your finely tuned aquarium gravel defense and able to completely control the game from both sides of the court. This is what made him such a compelling MVP candidate, even though he missed 21 games with various injuries; that’s what makes him a jaw-dropping watch, as he tries to take Philadelphia to his first place in the conference final. in 20 years, and his first championship in nearly 40.
He will have his work cut out for him. Even with Embiid’s departure, the Hawks still left Philadelphia with a division and had chances to steal Game 2. The Philly defense limited Young, but he still totaled 21 points and 11 assists, and had had some pretty to do the housework looks and game making Opportunities it just came to an end.
“Obviously Ben was keeping me a little bit more tonight, but I had a lot of open punches and they just didn’t fall,” Young said. told reporters after the game.
The Hawks fought from an 18-point first-half deficit to take an 80-79 lead with 2:40 left in the third quarter. It took some out-of-body experience for former goaltender Shake Milton, who had scored 17 total points in Philly’s first five playoff games, and scored 14 of 4-for-5 3-point shot in just 14 minutes after Doc dusted him off at the end of the third quarter, to start a 31-9 run that sidelined the game. The Sixers probably can’t count on another hero turn like this as the series changes and they hit the road.
However, they can count on Embiid. He’s the engine of a starting five that marks a scorching hot 139.4 points per 100 possessions in two games, and the anchor of the back line of a defense good enough to pack a talented Hawks team that flew high on Tuesday; I’m not sure a player has a bigger impact for his team at both ends of the pitch every night. This, of course, was the crux of the argument for Embiid to win the MVP. It wasn’t enough to earn him this trophy. A few more performances like this, however, could earn him the chance to play for the one he wants even more.