It’s only August, but Joel Embiid’s celebrations are in midseason form. His handles don’t look too bad either.
Embiid, a Cameroon native, starred in the NBA Africa Game Saturday in Pretoria, South Africa, posting a game-high 24 points on 9 for 18 shooting to go with eight rebounds and four assists. Team Africa fell to Team World in the third edition of the NBA Africa Game, 96-92.
Embiid spent the past week taking part in various community outreach events honoring Nelson Mandela’s legacy. He also showed the campers in the Basketball Without Borders program a few of his dance moves and threw down a fierce dunk on the Hornets’ Bismack Biyombo (see story).
In 2011, Embiid himself participated in the Basketball without Borders program. That’s the year he began playing basketball. He looked a little different.
“I feel [it’s] a way for me to kind of give back, and show them how it’s done,” Embiid said, per Sixers.com’s Brian Seltzer. “At the same time, it’s also a way for me to grow the game of basketball in Africa. I feel like we have a lot of talent, undiscovered talent, that can have a chance just like I did. They just need an opportunity.”
There were plenty of highlights on Saturday for Embiid, who was the last player introduced and sounded like he got the loudest cheers from the crowd.
When Hassan Whiteside checked in, it felt just like the playoffs all over again, with Embiid drawing two quick fouls on the Miami Heat center and going coast-to-coast for a layup after picking off a pass intended for Whiteside.
Embiid connected with former Sixer Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot late in the first quarter, finding Luwawu-Cabarrot for an open three-pointer. Luwawu-Cabarrot, now a member of the Thunder after the Sixers’ mid-July trade, scored 16 points, second-most on Team Africa.
Embiid’s smooth behind-the-back move and step-back jumper on JaVale McGee in the third quarter was a crowd-pleaser.
And he added a few of his patented and-one celebrations.
At the end of the game, Embiid went back and forth with the Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari, another Basketball without Borders alumnus. Embiid kept Team Africa close throughout the game, but Gallinari sealed the win for Team World, nailing a number of tough step-back jumpers. He earned MVP honors with 23 points on 9 for 10 shooting.
You don’t want to read too much into how Embiid played, given the All-Star Game-like setting. After all, he often brought the ball up the floor, playing a point-center role, and the game wasn’t played with much intensity until the final few minutes when the outcome was in the balance. But Embiid’s performance was a reminder of his immense talent. His MVP ambitions don’t sound so crazy when you watch him gliding down the floor, finishing with authority inside, and crossing up defenders.