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Joel Embiid on tough P.J. Tucker: ‘I’d be lying if I said that we’ve had those types of guys’

Joel Embiid and P.J. Tucker in Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Four

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 08: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against P.J. Tucker #17 of the Miami Heat in the first half during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Wells Fargo Center on May 8, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Heat 116-108. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

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P.J. Tucker endeared himself to the Rockets with his toughness, physicality and effort. He then helped the Bucks win a championship with his toughness, physicality and effort. Now, he just used his toughness, physicality and effort to help the Heat beat the 76ers and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

Philadelphia star Joel Embiid noticed.


I just know that we wasn’t tough enough.
You look at someone like P.J. Tucker. Great player, but it’s not about him knocking down shots. It’s about what he does, whether it’s on the defensive end or rebounding the ball. You look at, obviously, defensively, he plays with so much energy, believes that he can get from point A to point B, and he believes that no one can beat him. And he’s tough. He’s just physical, and he’s tough. And they have a few of those guys, whether it’s Bam and all those guys. And since I’ve been here, I’d be lying if I said that we’ve had those types of guys. Nothing against what we have, it’s just the truth. We never had P.J. Tucker. That’s really what I’m trying to say. So, I think physicality – especially once you get to the playoffs or the later rounds – you need that. You need those guys that are really tough.

It sounded like Embiid was making a larger (honest) point, realized he was demeaning his teammates then tried to spin it as talking about only P.J. Tucker.

The 76ers had one player who exudes those traits of toughness and determination (plus scoring ability), but that’s its own can of worms. Jimmy Butler now plays with P.J. Tucker and Bam Adebayo on the Heat. Embiid’s other teammates over the years have collectively skewed too far to the the finesse side of the playing-style spectrum.

Embiid showed his toughness this postseason by playing through a broken face and a thumb injury that will require offseason surgery. He could mix it up inside more at times, yes. But with his overall growth, it’s fair of him to ask more in those areas from his teammates.

That’ll require not just personnel change, but a culture change. Someone like Al Horford looks plenty tough with the Celtics. He didn’t fit in Philadelphia the same way.

As tough as Boston looks, the Bucks have been even more determined. There’s something to the will of a champion.

76ers forward Tobias Harris didn’t see that extraordinary effort from his team. Heck, he didn’t see even minimally acceptable effort from his team.


Truthfully, just lack of effort on our part.
That’s truly the disappointing factor. I could see if we came out and just gave it 100 percent every game, the greatest effort we could and just lost. But that wasn’t the case in this series.
It’s mental toughness. That part of it, I don’t think we have yet. Seeing the Milwaukee game yesterday, that’s a team that has been through the fire, being able to fight and just keep going. Seeing, I think at times, for our group, too many things just affected us as a whole. We drop our heads too much. Our body language at times is crappy. And we needed that to be better throughout this series. And I think that hurt us in the series. Our mental toughness for sure hurt us.

The 76ers definitely didn’t play hard enough in Game 5. They faded late in Game 6.

At a certain point, that reflects on the coach. Harris’ comments only increase scrutiny on Doc Rivers. Motivating the team is part of his job, and he didn’t do it well enough.

From culture to roster to coaching, Philadelphia must determine how to fix this problem.