Whether it was his achy knee, fitness level, Marc Gasol’s defense or the gastroenteritis he fought pregame, Joel Embiid wasn’t quite himself Monday night.
The All-Star center took just seven shots, making two, and finished with 12 points. Embiid hadn’t scored so few points since Dec. 5, against Toronto. The least amount of field-goal attempts he had in the regular season was eight.
But with the game on the line, the All-Star center made two huge plays and did well with a new defensive assignment to help lift the Sixers to a 94-89 win in Game 2 over the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena Monday.
“For him to come out, and he was 2 of 7 which is definitely not Joel,” Brett Brown said, “but what I remember is late, they double-team him and he had the wherewithal to find Jimmy Butler on the other side of the floor for a huge three. Then we’re coming down the court and do we call a timeout or not — I had two — and I didn’t want to. I would end up drawing up the same play we could run in flow. So we stuck with it and he ended up making that shot. Full credit all over the place to Joel.”
Embiid has gotten so much better with recognizing and exploiting double teams. You saw it as the regular season wound down and the play to Butler with 2:14 left was a perfect example.
While Butler was by far the Sixers’ best player Monday night, Embiid actually scored the biggest basket. With just over a minute left, Danny Green missed an open, game-tying three. Pascal Siakam was able to get the offensive rebound and cut the lead to one.
On the next possession, the Sixers ran a pick-and-roll with the hot-handed Butler and Embiid. Gasol blitzed the pick-and-roll, leaving Embiid open at the top of the key. With Gasol off balance and trying to recover, Embiid pump faked, drove into the paint, pulled a spin move, and got Gasol in the air with a pump fake at the rim before depositing two points with 24.3 second left to put the Sixers back up three.
It was just Embiid’s second made field goal, but boy, was it timely.
On the defensive end, Brown threw an interesting wrinkle at the Raptors, using Embiid on fellow Cameroonian Pascal Siakam. It’s similar to what the Sixers have down with Embiid on Giannis Antetokounmpo with varying degrees of success.
It worked to perfection in Game 2 as Siakam went 9 of 25 after going 12 of 15 in Game 1. The matchup against the Greek Freak prepared Embiid for this situation.
“Yeah, obviously [Siakam and Antetokounmpo] are all long athletes, can run the floor and push the ball in transition,” Embiid said. “[Siakam] shoots a low percentage from anywhere on the top of the key, so the goal was to make him drive, make him go left and we did a good job today.”
Embiid missed shootaround and was listed as a game-time decision with his stomach issues. He truly gutted this one out.
When you go into our locker room before the game,” Brown said, “and I see Jo hooked up to an IV and he’s got a cell phone or a small iPad and he’s studying and he’s looking and watching different reads on Ibaka. He’s prideful. He wants to win. He’s an incredible teammate. He has been with me the longest.
And what a long, strange journey it’s been for Embiid and Brown.
After dealing with a wonky navicular bone, other injuries and a whole lot of losing, Embiid and Brown have made it to the other side. As they showed in Game 2, they have the talent to compete with anybody.
No way Embiid was going to let a little gastro intestinal issue stand in his way.
“If you had the s**** before … you would know how it feels,” Embiid said before bursting out in laughter. “But these are my guys. I want to show up every night, play hard and tonight I felt like that was a big game for us. After Game 1, we all felt like we had a chance. That after a few adjustments we could get on top and tonight we did that, but that’s all that matters. A win. So now we got to go home and take care of business.”
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