NEW YORK — So far this postseason, there is no way to predict if Joel Embiid will play in a playoff game.
He was doubtful in Game 1, but played. He was questionable in Game 2 and played. He was questionable and said his knee was feeling better pregame, but didn’t play in Game 3.
So naturally, with him being listed as doubtful, he played and was absolutely magnificent in the Sixers’ 112-108 Game 4 win over the Nets at Barclays Center Saturday (see observations).
After playing just 10 minutes in the first half, Embiid played 21 of 24 minutes in the second half. He finished with 31 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks. The only other player to put up that stat line in a playoff game is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974, per Basketball-Reference.
“Just look at the magnitude of what the numbers say, the influence that the numbers say he must’ve had on a game,” Brett Brown said. “It’s hard to sort of say it any better than that. He was dominant.
“There are times you could see it’s still raw. There are some decisions that he would probably like to have over again, but given the volume of playing time lately that he hasn’t had, it’s just a dominant performance. What more can you say?”
Beyond the numbers, Embiid was a force on both ends of the floor. His physical presence has been tough for the Nets to handle, especially young center Jarrett Allen.
Embiid was assessed a Flagrant 1 in Game 2 after delivering an elbow to the neck of Allen when making a move to the basket. On Saturday, Allen drove to the rim and was met by Embiid who was called for a foul. Veteran Jared Dudley, who’s become public enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia, took exception to the contact and charged after Embiid. Jimmy Butler in turn rushed at Dudley.
Butler and Dudley were both given double technicals and ejected while Embiid received yet another Flagrant 1. It’s worth noting that the league uses a point system with flagrant fouls. Embiid is up to two points. Four points and he’ll get an automatic one-game suspension, though the league could rescind the Flagrant 1 from Saturday.
Embiid was adamant postgame that he got “all ball.”
“I’m not that type of player,” Embiid said. “Any chance that I get I try to go for the ball and if I feel like I made a mistake, I always apologize. At the same time, that’s also a mind game. l know these guys are going to go at me because they want me to retaliate so I got to be the mature one on the court and just stay cool and not react. Today I knew I could’ve reacted but I felt like my team needed me more than [the Nets] needed Jared Dudley.”
That’s an understatement — especially on Saturday.
The Sixers were able to win Game 3 without Embiid with Boban Marjanovic having his third consecutive standout performance. Marjanovic came down to earth in a big way in Game 4. Brown also tried plugging in rookie Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe to buy Embiid more rest. It didn’t work out.
Brown was forced to ride his All-Star big man, who always seems to be in the middle of the action.
“He’s got a spirit about him — that’s the word I choose to use,” Brown said. “There’s a belief, there’s a swagger, there’s a spirit — choose whatever word you want. He’s got that persona. And then you say well, he’s incredibly physical. You take 7-foot-2 and you have that sort of dynamic personality and kind of the way you live your life and play basketball and you’re completely physical and highly competitive. It produces environments like that.
“As his coach, you kind of wouldn’t trade it for much. It’s a rare combination that he has with his skill and his personality and his sort of innate competitiveness.”
What’s crazy is for as dominant as Embiid is on the offensive end, you can make the argument he’s even better on defense. He was otherworldly in this one with those six blocks and providing outstanding help defense all afternoon.
With the way Ben Simmons has been playing against D’Angelo Russell in this series, the combination of Embiid and Simmons has neutralized Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll — not a sentence anyone expected to be typing while the Sixers were getting scorched in Atlanta by Trae Young just a few weeks ago.
But that was the regular season. The postseason is a completely different animal as the young Nets are finding out the hard way.
There is one thing that hasn’t changed from the regular season for the Sixers. The offensive strategy remains the same.
Get the ball to Embiid.
“The game plan has always been the same,” Embiid said. “I just got to be aggressive. These guys are trying to find me any ways they can … just got to play through the system. They want me to be aggressive. Any time [Brown] gets a chance to post me, he does it. For me, it’s just about being aggressive all the time and they do a great job finding me.”
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