Tim BontempsESPN4 minutes to read
PHILADELPHIA — After watching Joel Embiid dismantle the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers was confident of only one thing.
“We did a lot of things wrong, but what we did right was Joel Embiid,” Rivers said.
“The MVP race is over.”
There are still five days left in the NBA regular season. But after watching Embiid surgically dismantle the Celtics, finishing with 52 points in a ridiculous 20-25 performance in a 103-101 victory in Philadelphia, it’s hard to blame Rivers for getting a little ahead of himself.
“Joel has to win it,” said James Harden, who scored 20 points and had 10 assists in 40 minutes. “He’s been in contention for that the last few years. He led the league in scoring last year. Looks like he’s going to lead the league in scoring this year. We’re the third seed in the East. He’s been consistent all year.”
Consistently on fire in every minute of the 38 minutes and 37 seconds he was on the court, Embiid did whatever he wanted against a Celtics team that came into Tuesday night’s contest winning the first three meetings between the two teams and went on to win by 76 seconds. ‘number in recent years.
But on Tuesday, they had no answer for Embiid’s dominance.
“I think the whole league is trying to figure that out right now,” Derek White said when asked about how to stop Embiid. “So if you have any ideas, I think every other team in the NBA would like to know.”
With these teams very likely to meet in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Celtics would love to get some more ideas – although having both Jaylen Brown (back) and Robert Williams III (knee) on the field would help. .
Embiid’s night was one for the history books, as he became the first player in the shot clock era to score more than half of his team’s points and shoot 80% from the field, also joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only player to score at least one. 50 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 80% from the field.
And Embiid has done so while getting a lot of attention coming his way. According to ESPN Stats & Information’s player-tracking metrics, Embiid has double teamed 13 times, shot Philadelphia 9-for-11 and scored 23 points on those possessions. Meanwhile, Embiid was an absurd 10-for-13 on contested field goal attempts.
“When he’s going like that, no one can stop him,” said P.J. Tucker, who hit three huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help Philadelphia finish the game.
Boston certainly couldn’t stop him Tuesday night as Embiid put up – on national television, no less – a rather dramatic closing argument in an MVP race that, as ESPN’s latest poll showed last week, is the closest it gets between Embiid and Denver Nuggets center Nikola. Jokic is like no player in the history of the NBA.
When asked about Rivers and Harden’s comments, Embiid couldn’t help but smile.
“Maybe they’re right,” Embiid said from the podium, laughing from the room. “But we got bigger targets.”
Those bigger goals, of course, extend beyond the second round of the playoffs, something Embiid hasn’t done in his NBA career and something that will almost certainly require beating Boston four out of seven games next month.
That’s why Embiid focused on the way Philadelphia almost allowed Boston to pull off what could have been an absolutely incredible comeback from down seven points with less than 10 seconds left – one that was Jason Tatum at the buzzer off serve. The game is overtime.
Embiid said: “We understand we have a chance, but it won’t be easy. Tonight, for me, was disappointing because we found so many ways to lose the game and that’s on all of us.
“I’m part of it. I could have been better. You know, I had a couple of stupid plays… I could have been better and we could have been better as a team. Like I said, we had bigger goals in mind, but we have to be better than that “.
Even after the late-game crash, there were plenty of issues for the 76ers. Therese Maxe’s season-long struggles continued against Boston, as he finished 2-for-8 from the court with a single turnover compared to four assists, and is now 9-for-32 in his last three games against the Celtics.
As a team, the 76ers not named Embiid shot 19-for-53 (35.8%)—a number that drops to 15-for-49 (30.6%) when you remove Tucker’s 4-for-5 performance from the equation.
The 76ers allowed Boston to grab 13 offensive rebounds – which led to 13 more shots – and couldn’t create a tiebreaker in a game both Brown and Williams missed.
In the end, though, it didn’t matter, thanks to an outstanding performance from Embiid. While he and the 76ers looked forward to what seemed like an inevitable playoff showdown, the ugly nature of the win didn’t take away from the satisfaction of avoiding a season-wide sweep at the hands of one of Philadelphia’s biggest rivals.
“I mean, we struggled this year against them, and obviously we were down 0-3,” Embiid said. “So it was really needed tonight. A win is a win. It doesn’t matter what we did wrong there. Like I said, we found ways to basically lose that game but a win is a win – especially going into the playoffs, and if they end up with the second seed, we might see them in the round.” Second, if we get there.
“You have to be prepared for every scenario. I just wanted to know where we are, where I am, and where we are as a team. I think you know, if we can right a lot of wrong that was made, we’ve got a good shot.”