In Review | Embracing Aggressive Mindset, Embiid Takes Over, Makes History

Snapshot:

LOS ANGELES, CA - We can’t read the future, but we can certainly live in the present.

And for those who experienced Wednesday’s game at STAPLES Center in some way, shape or form - whether you attended it, watched it, streamed it, tweeted it, whatever - the night will undoubtedly be remembered for Joel Embiid doing something that had never been done before.

In the finale of a 5-game Western Conference road trip, at just 23 years of age and 43 games worth of professional basketball on his resume, the 7-footer didn’t just dominate, he dominated virtually every aspect of the 76ers’ 115-109 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks blocked shots in 34 minutes. Let those staggering statistics sink in for a moment.

Embiid became the first player in NBA history to reach those totals in a single game. Ever.

His scoring output was the most for a Sixer since Allen Iverson went for 46 points in a November 24th, 2006 match-up against the Chicago Bulls.

It was the third-highest scoring game in the league this fall, behind the 57 points LeBron James racked up November 3rd at Washington, and the 56 points James Harden posted two days later against Utah.

Most important, Embiid seemed to muster up all his might when Wednesday’s tilt was hanging in the balance. He took over the fourth quarter, and helped the Sixers secure a second straight victory, as well as a STAPLES Center sweep on the heels of Monday’s win over the LA Clippers.

The Sixers will head back home having recorded a stellar 3-2 mark on their now-completed trek.

“I was just playing basketball, and being aggressive,” Embiid said afterwards, in his matter-of-fact, soft-spoken tone. “I stayed after it, and I got going.”

Ok, that’s all well, good, and modest, but that’s all you’ve got? You just had a game the likes of which the NBA had never seen, and there’s nothing more to say?

Embiid then took the bait a little. He was willing to affirm that Wednesday’s game was the best he’s ever played.

“Yeah, I am impressed,” Embiid acknowledged. “I heard it has never been done in the league ever before. I wish I could have had a quadruple-double, with blocks, but, like I said, I just went out there and played basketball, and played the right way.”

Perhaps the word gets thrown around too loosely these days, especially in an age in which we seek instant gratification, and tend to anoint things instantaneously, but by no means would it be a stretch to put Embiid’s performance Wednesday in the epic category.

He was ultra efficient, converting 14 of 20 field goal attempts on 14-footers; 25-footers; dunks; the occasionally graceful, balletic spin move; and other assorted maneuvers.

He was steady - massively, decisively steady - from the free throw line, where he sunk 16 of 19 shots.

He was a willing facilitator, joining the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, idol Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Bill Russell as some of the NBA who have handed out 7 assists in a single outing.

He was a relentless rim protector, setting a new personal-high for blocked shots.

His plus-minus rating of 19 was telling of his impact, and equaled that of his point man, Ben Simmons, who’s been brewing up his own brand of history lately.

Joel Embiid was a flat out force Wednesday, and he couldn’t be slowed.

“You try to find that balance of not walking it up the floor every time, and just posting Joel,” said Brett Brown. “We ended up doing that, and he was just dominant. It’s always that slippery slope of playing with pace and movement, and then realizing you’ve got Joel Embiid.

“Tonight, we realized we had Joel Embiid.”

Simmons, who registered his ninth double-double by cranking out 18 points (8-13 fg, 2-4 ft) and 10 assists to go along with 9 rebounds and 5 steals, called Embiid “unstoppable.”

“He’s a beast in the post,” said Simmons, “and he keeps doing the same thing.”

“You got to feed the monster,” said Robert Covington, who put Wednesday’s affair out of reach by hitting a 3-pointer at the 2-minute mark that increased the Sixers’ lead to 110-104. “When Jo’s rolling...not a lot of people can stop Jo in this league. He makes plays. We’re very fortunate to have him.”

Here’s how Embiid’s production broke down by quarter Wednesday:

1st - 8 pts (3-5 fg, 1-1 3fg, 1-1 ft) | 3 reb | 3 ast | +7 | 6 min

2nd - 10 pts (2-3 fg, 0-1 3fg, 6-7 ft) | 6 reb | 1 ast | 1 blk | +7 | 8 min

3rd - 9 pts (3-5 fg, 3-4 ft) | 3 reb | 1 ast | +7 | 5 blk | -5 | 9 min

4th - 19 pts (6-7 fg, 1-1 3fg, 6-7 ft) | 3 reb | 2 ast | 1 blk | +10 | 10 min

“I wasn’t forcing nothing,” said Embiid, who, more than anything else, was encouraged to see he committed only two turnovers.

Simmons sensed pretty quickly that against the Lakers, Embiid would be able to impose his will. From there, the mission was to keep “throwing it to him.”

“He does his thing, he goes to work, he’s Joel,” Simmons said.

His presence was at that much more of a premium Wednesday, with the Sixers going an uncharacteristic 7 for 32 from the perimeter. A bankable option like Embiid proved pivotal.

“He has so much in his game,” said Covington, who notched 12 points and 6 rebounds. “Tonight was a true testament. He did everything - played like a guard, posted, shot threes, hit inside and out throughout the whole game. Not too many people are doing that in this league.”

Wednesday’s was a remarkable effort on many fronts for Embiid, but perhaps most of all because of how quickly his personal fortunes changed in a matter of days.

Dissatisfied with the way he played against the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors earlier in the Sixers’ trip, he said he made it a point to change his mindset in Los Angeles, versus the Clippers and Lakers both. The outcome was a jaw-dropping 78 points and 31 rebounds in nearly 70 minutes between two games.

“I just want to be aggressive, that’s my new mentality,” said Embiid. “Especially for the first few games, I felt like I wasn’t aggressive and I was frustrated, so I can’t wait to keep the same momentum going.”

Brown wasn’t expecting Embiid to regain full-fledged game shape until around Thanksgiving. In Tinseltown, his mind and body appeared to be in sync.

“I think he’s just playing more confidently,” Brown said. “I think he’s getting his fitness base slowly underneath him, and I feel like it’s just progressively playing with teammates, and being with us more.

“His growth path and comfort level, we felt that it was going to come after Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving happened just a little bit quicker.”

Fueled by Embiid, through his passing in particular, the Sixers raced out to a 22-8 advantage at the outset of the first quarter. The Lakers made it a 1-point game right off the bat in the second period, before carrying an 84-83 edge into the fourth. That’s when Embiid really started to turn it on, using a reverse lay-up to push the Sixers back in front.

After Los Angeles seized a 100-98 lead with 5 minutes to play, Embiid proceeded to rip off 7 of the Sixers’ next 9 points, including this nasty up-and-under move that not only flipped the score in his club’s favor, 103-101, but put him over the 40-point plateau, too.

“I’ve been watching a lot of post guys lately, especially Hakeem,” said Embiid. “I’ve been trying to study, especially because I’ve been struggling a little bit.”

Brown indicated he believes that even in light of Wednesday’s rare feat, Embiid has more to give. Embiid himself seemed pleased with how he fared in the road trip finale, but by no means did he come across satisfied.

“Like the great Sonny Hill always tells me, ‘You got to keep the balance,’” Embiid said. “You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low.”

That might be a worthwhile mantra to apply between the ears, and who knows what the big man will do as a follow-up, but based on Wednesday’s box score, the truth was out there. Embiid was living large, in a stratosphere all to himself.

Sixers Social:

Just about every game Joel Embiid plays, and often multiple times, it’s a question that requires asking -- how does a person 7-feet tall get his body to do something like this?

Next Up:
The Sixers and The Center. Two things that will be going together quite frequently over the next couple weeks. Starting Saturday, in a re-match with the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, no less, the Sixers open a season-long 6-game homestand. The Sixers have played the Dubs pretty close at home in recent years, with their last three pairings at The Center being decided by an average margin of 6.3 points.