Playoffs Game Preview | Embiid Believes He's Built for Post-Season
To watch Joel Embiid play basketball is to understand that he is a special physical specimen, bred with the rarest of rare qualities.
At a hulking 7-feet, 260 pounds, he is a massively imposing presence, his towering frame serving as the ultimate interior intimidator.
With nimble feet, balance, and coordination, Embiid boasts stunning agility, and has already developed an array of moves and maneuvers that defy his size. His natural shooting touch only makes him that much more dangerous.
Between the ears lies another vital asset. It’s been less than a decade since Embiid first picked up a basketball, but, through intellect, aptitude, and a fiercely competitive psyche, the 24-year old has somehow has managed to ascend to a level where he can now dominate a professional sport, in spite of relatively limited experience.
These attributes, combined together, have created a dynamic, potentially transformative talent the likes of which might come around once in a generation, or two, or three.
And Embiid’s uncanny set of anatomical gifts have only seemed to embolden his sense of purpose. More than anything else, the All-Star sounds certain he was made for this time of year.
“I live for these moments,” Embiid said Friday, the day after he registered 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in the Sixers’ 128-108 win over Miami.
It was a compelling entrance into the post-season for Embiid. No player in NBA history had ever before reached those statistical minimums in a Playoffs debut, and more significant, the Sixers won, reclaiming control of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
“I thrive in this atmosphere, and I think I was built for this, especially playoff basketball.”
It would be hard to find fault in the conviction of Embiid’s claim.
He can give you timely interior baskets when points are in dire need, like, let’s say, the decisive second quarter in the Sixers’ Game 2 loss.
He’s a road block for rim drivers, a factor only reinforced by the following statistical nugget that emerged from Game 3: the Heat scored just six points in the paint in the 30 minutes Embiid was on the court.
In the time the center has been off the floor in the opening round series, Miami has averaged 28.0 points in the paint.
Still, there’s more ways Embiid’s presence causes positive ripple effects.
He’s demonstrated an elite knack for quarterbacking the Sixers on the offensive end, his sharp passing touch critical to picking apart defensive rotations.
In the Playoffs, when every point helps, he commands fouls - 15 in Thursday’s win alone - the source of coveted extra scoring opportunities. And not only is Embiid able to draw fouls at floor spots uncommon for most five men, as a 77.5 percent career free throw shooter, he makes teams pay for sending him to the line.
On top of all that, the argument could be made that Embiid’s greatest weapon of all is his mind. He talks big, and walks bigger.
Embiid knows how much of a difference he can make, and embraces it.
In South Philadelphia, he acts as the maestro, conducting a chorus of 20,000 strong. On the road, he’s the ultimate heel, a role reversal he actually thinks works to his advantage.
Take, for instance, Game 3. Back in action for the first time in three weeks, Embiid opened the night by missing his first five shots. He needed some time and touches to get into a rhythm.
With under two minutes to go in the first half, Embiid then sunk a top-of-the-arc pick-and-pop 3-pointer to tie the score at 61. Moments later, he delivered a lay-up that would’ve been a highlight on just about any occasion, regardless of whether Thursday was his first game since March 28th, when he sustained a concussion and right orbital bone fracture against the New York Knicks.
— Brian Seltzer (@brianseltzer) April 20, 2018
“When I made that three, that was actually my first shot made of the game, and actually went out of my way and shushed the crowd,” said Embiid. “That got me going, and I started feeling it back. Those types of things are ways for me to get back and start playing better, because I actually think I play better on the road because I love the atmosphere. I just love looking around the arena, [seeing] people booing, people going against us. That just takes my game to another level.”
While it might look routine for Embiid, putting up large numbers on the heels of an extensive lay-off is no easy task. Forget that time didn’t allow for him to get many full-court, up-and-down reps in practice in the days leading up to his return. He also had to adjust Thursday to his new protective mask.
Brett Brown said he was proud of the professionalism Embiid showed in the face of adverse circumstances. Then again, that’s nothing new for Embiid.
For Embiid himself, he was simply thrilled to finally get into a post-season game.
“It meant a lot,” he said Thursday. “I worked really hard for it. I promised the city that. I made it happen and I was sad that I couldn’t play that first game at home, because we have a special connection. I’m glad I came back and we got a win.”
The first Embiid was part of in what he hopes will be a deep run in the Playoffs.
“I don’t have a lot of years of that, and I think this year is really special, and we have a chance,” Embiid said Friday. “Considering that this is only my second year, or my first year,kind of, actually being out here and actually being able to go every day, I love it. I live for these moments.”
Passionate words from a big man built to win.
Physicality, and the Sixers’ ability (or inability) to effectively manage it, has by and large been the determining factor in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Miami Heat.
Game 1, the Sixers, behind an explosive second half, were able to impose their will the most, and won.
Game 2, Miami played the game on its own terms, and the Sixers lost.
Game 3, it was a toss up for the most part, the Sixers and Heat both equally scrappy through three quarters, before the Sixers clamped down on defense in the fourth, and pulled away.
Heading into Saturday’s Game 4, Brett Brown is in no way tempering his emphasis on the physicality factor. If anything, he sounded like he’s doubling down on it.
“We know what [Game 4] is going to look like physically,” Brown said Friday. “There is a physical style of play that this game will be played with and reffed by.”
On the Heat side of things, Miami will aim to avoid dropping a pair of precious games on its own turf.
“This is avery good opponent, a worthy opponent we’re playing against,” said Erik Spoelstra, who praised the Sixers for stepping up their defense. “I thought our guys competed. Both teams played at a very high intensity and physicality level. Once you get to that level, things have to be done with focus and a sense of purpose. Probably for the most part, [the Sixers] were more consistent in that regard on both ends of the court.”
• Video: NBA on TNT / TNT Overtime app, NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network