76ers

Joel Embiid knows what he needs to do to bounce back in Game 6

Joel Embiid knows what he needs to do to bounce back in Game 6

When your best player isn’t your best player, it’s awfully hard to win a playoff series.

Joel Embiid hasn’t been himself for most of the postseason and has struggled mightily in four of the five games of the Sixers’ second-round series with the Raptors. Game 5 wasn’t a banner night for any Sixer, but Embiid’s performance was magnified by the context of his health.

The All-Star center, still dealing with the effects of an upper-respiratory infection, had another dreadful night Tuesday. He scored just 13 points and committed eight turnovers. Embiid actually looked OK physically. It was the mental aspect of the game that seemed to plague him.

He improved so much dealing with double teams and “quarterbacking the gym,” as Brett Brown likes to say, toward the end of the season. His decision-making was highly questionable in Game 5 as he continually dribbled into crowds and made poor outlet passes.

“I think that offensively there was a rhythm to his game that was clearly out of sync,” Brown said. “He’s been in a bed for two days. I think the easiest way to confirm what I’m saying is just watch his turnovers. By any stretch, they’re not Joel Embiid-type turnovers.”

What makes Embiid’s recent performances so frustrating is what we saw from him Game 3. He poured in 33 points and blocked five shots in a Sixers’ blowout win. He was dominant. He was Joel Embiid.

A lot was made of the matchup Embiid is facing against veteran big man Marc Gasol. It’s a fair point to bring up. Gasol plays Embiid as tough as any center in the league. But the Sixers have figured out ways to shake Embiid loose by getting Gasol on the move. Brown has used Embiid more as a screener and a roller, something he hasn’t done a ton of early in his career.

He’s not taking his struggles lightly and wants to do whatever it takes to keep his team’s season alive.

It sucks. I know I’ve got to do a better job for us to win. I’ve got to do the little things. I need to score the ball, I’ve got to show up. You know, setting screens, I’ve got to do a better job rebounding the ball. That’s on me. I can’t control my physical condition, but I can also control how much I push myself, and I try to do that. But I’ve just got to do more.

Embiid has drawn plenty of criticism from the fans and media about his lack of health and poor body language. People have pointed to Embiid’s diet and have questioned whether or not he’s properly taking care of himself.

While national pundits took their shots at Embiid, his coach and teammates defended him vehemently. 

Jimmy Butler has emerged as a leader for the Sixers. Even after Butler fulfilled his media obligations in the locker room, he joined Embiid at the podium. This is something Butler has done throughout the playoffs.

He knows the potential of Embiid and is trying to lift his big man up.

We’re not concerned,” Butler said. “Like I said before, we’re going to ride or die with big fella. Everybody around this locker room knows that, everybody in the world should know it, the fans should know it. We’ll be just fine, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, encouraging him to keep battling through all injury, through all sickness and we’re here with him.

Something Butler often talks about is making sure his teammates are enjoying themselves. Butler always talks about smiling and having fun while playing basketball.

That message may have gotten through to Embiid.

The Toronto fans didn’t appreciate Embiid's throwing down a windmill dunk and his subsequent airplane celebration. As he was leaving the court Tuesday night, those in attendance at Scotiabank Arena mocked Embiid’s antics. It was likely not a fun moment.

There hasn’t been much for the Cameroonian to smile about recently, but he knows he has to change his mindset if he wants to get right.

“I know that I’ve got to go back to Game 3, the same energy, got to have fun,” Embiid said. “That’s one of the keys of me playing so well this whole season. It’s just about, I’ve got to smile on the court, I’ve got to lift my teammates up. I shouldn’t care about offending anybody, just got to be myself, just not really care, just do whatever I want to. At the end of the day, that’s how I dominate. If you see the smile, that means I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and I intend to be doing that in two days.”

He better if he wants to give Sixers fans something to smile about Thursday.

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Al Horford makes a donation for coronavirus relief in Dominican Republic, regions where he's played in United States

Al Horford makes a donation for coronavirus relief in Dominican Republic, regions where he's played in United States

Al Horford has donated $500,000 to support coronavirus relief in the Dominican Republic, as well as in each region of the United States where he's played for a team, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Horford’s father Tito was the first Dominican-born NBA player, and Al was born in the country. The family later moved to Michigan, where Horford attended Grand Ledge High School. He went to the University of Florida and has played for three NBA cities — Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia. 

Several other members of the Sixers organization have also made charitable donations during the coronavirus pandemic. Joel Embiid has pledged to donate $500,000 to COV-19 medical relief efforts. Ben Simmons launched “The Philly Pledge,” an initiative which encourages donations to Philabundance and the PHL COVID-19 Fund that’s received support from a wide range of Philadelphia athletes, among them teammates Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Norvel Pelle and Marial Shayok. 

Sixers managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer have made several donations related to coronavirus relief, including to Philabundance and to CHOP and Cooper Hospital.

Limited partner Michael Rubin aims to have his company Fanatics produce a million masks and gowns for hospital and emergency healthcare workers. 

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Sixers Home School: The night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan

Sixers Home School: The night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan

There's a lot of home schooling going on right now, so why not use some of this time to learn more about the history of your favorite teams? In this edition of Sixers Home School, we look back at the night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan.

In a vacuum, rookie Allen Iverson crossing over the legendary Michael Jordan on March 12, 1997, at what was then known as the CoreStates Center was impressive enough.

Putting it into context makes you understand just how big of a deal it was at the time.

The 21-year-old Iverson was having a strong rookie campaign after the Sixers drafted him No. 1 overall. He was still a month away from setting an NBA rookie record with five straight games of 40-plus points. He wasn’t sporting what would become his trademark cornrows — though he did rock them when he won MVP of the Schick Rookie Game. 

This night was when he began to really put a bow on what would turn into a Rookie of the Year season.

As for Jordan and the Bulls, they were ho humming their way to a 69-win season and their fifth title in seven years. Jordan was 33, and though his game had evolved, he was as dominant as ever. Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman provided all the help he would need.

But on this night, it wasn’t about the Bulls, who celebrated receiving their championship ring ceremony by trouncing the Sixers and shutting down Iverson earlier in the season.

This was about the kid from Hampton, Virginia. The six-foot guard from Georgetown that grew up idolizing His Airness, but also told a coach back in high school that he was good enough to take him. 

“I remember the first time I played against him,” Iverson said in his Hall of Fame speech. “I walked out on the court and I looked at him, and for the first time in my life a human being didn’t look real to me.”

Though the first time the two actually talked was not necessarily cordial.

“The first time I ever talked to him was that year playing in the Rookie Game,” Iverson said in an interview with Complex. “I’ll never forget it because he said, ‘What’s up, you little b----?’ I’ll never forget it.”

Whether the moment provided extra motivation or what, Iverson was at times the best player on the court — which, given who was on the court, is a hell of a statement.

Iverson would finish with a game-high 37 points and foul out in a four-point loss. No, the Sixers didn’t win that night, but the fact that Iverson nearly willed a team full of guys like Scott Williams, Mark Davis and Rex Chapman to a victory over that juggernaut was remarkable.

But over the course of time, nobody remembers — or really cares — who won that game. It was the moment A.I. crossed over M.J. It wasn’t quite a torch-passing moment as Jordan would go on to win another MVP and championship, but it was a clear indication that Philadelphia had drafted a star.

That highlight dominated every sportscast the following day and had Sixers fans' imaginations running wild.

The legend of Iverson only continued to grow from there as he became one Philadelphia’s most celebrated athletes and joined his idol in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Years later, he spoke to Jordan about the moment he got him with his legendary crossover.

“I went to a Charlotte game and I was telling him how much he meant to me and how I rocked with him,” Iverson went on to say in the interview with Complex. “He was like, ‘Man, you don’t rock with me like that because you wouldn’t have crossed me like that.’”

For as much as Iverson had idolized Jordan, his desire to beat him and be the best outweighed that.

“I always knew that once I got to the league, I was going to try my move on the best,” Iverson said, “so he was just a victim that night.”

That night, a star was born and a legacy was just beginning.

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