LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid is no stranger to trash talking. Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, even his best friend Nerlens Noel have been on the receiving end. They’ve all brushed it off. Willie Reed, not so much. Their hostile interaction was in the heat of the moment and neither were laughing.
“I just wanted to go inside, especially against [DeAndre Jordan] and I don't know, what's his name? But that boy fouled out,” Embiid said in a walk-off interview after the Sixers’ 109-105 win over the Clippers on Monday night (see observations).
That player whose name just happened to slip Embiid’s mind was Reed.
The tension between the two bigs began less than two minutes into the second quarter. Reed did not approve of Embiid’s defense on him at the basket when he was whistled for traveling. Embiid reacted by pointing at Reed and smiling.
That smile didn’t last long.
Only seconds later, Embiid went up for a basket on the Sixers’ following possession. Reed pulled him down by the shoulder, sending the 7-foot-2, 280-pound center to the floor.
Embiid bounced up and quickly got right in Reed’s face (see video). Their teammates and officials intervened before it went any further. The refs called Reed for a Flagrant 1. The Clippers’ reserve big man ended up fouling out with 23 seconds remaining in the game.
“He just did what he had to do,” Embiid said. “He was fouling me and he got a [flagrant] because he couldn’t guard me.”
Embiid thrives in situations like this. He’s not shy to initiate the banter, but if someone else does it first, he doesn’t object. Embiid was fueled by the exchanges and put them toward a career-high 36 minutes, career-high 16 rebounds, and season-high 32 points (see highlights). It was a bounce-back effort after scoring just 12 points against the Warriors on Saturday.
“I love when guys come at the beginning of the game and start talking trash,” Embiid said. “It gets me going. That’s what I’ve been needing the past couple games and I think it got me going, too. They were being aggressive and that’s how they get in foul trouble and that’s how I do my job.”
Embiid made 16 trips to the free throw line, a place he has said he wants to live this season. He connected for a season-high nine free throws.
“Embiid is a tough player,” Doc Rivers said. “He just drew foul after foul. He got [Jordan] and Willie in foul trouble. That tells you how good he is.”
Still, Embiid had to be careful about getting wrapped up in the emotional side of the matchups. His tussle with Reed happened with 10:38 remaining in the first half. He could have let the incident get the best of him, but he collected himself and stayed focused the rest of the night.
“He walks that fine line, doesn’t he, of getting engaged, getting into the game,” Brett Brown said. “I thought that he did a really good job of staying on the side of the fence that didn’t produce anything harmful for the team, a technical or something like that.
“He used his spirit and he used his sort of swagger to help motivate himself and us. He was dominant tonight. He wanted the ball. He was physical. Brutally physical at times. I thought his attitude stayed on that fence. He didn’t cross that line.”
As for Embiid’s approach to keeping his cool, well, it’s simple.
“I mean, I don’t want to get fined,” he said. “So just stay calm.”