There were times Monday night where Joel Embiid was flat out dominant.
The All-Star center, returning from a one-game absence while nursing a right ankle sprain, put up 36 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in 33 minutes of the Sixers’ thrilling 105-103 win over the Hawks at State Farm Arena (see observations).
Still, Embiid wasn’t satisfied.
“I don't think I had a good game,” Embiid told reporters postgame. “Seven turnovers is way too many, especially coming off a game against Boston where I had zero. So, got to work on that. I got to work on my passing, got to be more patient, got to be better for my teammates so we're in better situations.”
While it’s true that the seven turnovers are far too many, the now 3-0 Sixers don’t take down exciting young guard Trae Young and Atlanta without Embiid’s efforts.
“He to me — and statistically it's a no brainer when you listen to what I'm going to say — he was our crown jewel in a blatant way tonight,” Brett Brown said. “We have talent, no doubt, but he emerged in significant ways throughout the game. I thought that he and we did a pretty good job of executing a play at the end of the game trying to find ways to either get him straight up or on a high-low. And we were able to do that, but Joel Embiid carried us tonight and we needed him — particularly offensively.”
Brown and the Sixers clearly made a conscious effort to get their big man the ball in the post in the second half.
Overall, the offense looked stagnant. The ball wasn’t moving as well as it has at times through the first three games. The team’s shooting, a concern coming into this season, hasn’t progressed the way Brown hoped it would. They shot just 11 of 41 (26.8 percent) from three on Monday and are the fourth-worst three-point shooting team (29.8 percent) in the NBA.
Tobias Harris in particular couldn’t get it going after posting 29 points and carrying the Sixers Saturday night in Detroit. He hit just 1 of 9 from three and was 5 of 16 overall.
Despite the turnovers, Embiid’s presence in the post carried the Sixers Monday.
“That's his game,” Harris said. “I mean, he's unstoppable down there. For us, we were really kind of struggling offensively. So that was a good way for us to get some easy looks and be able to get to the free throw line, slow the game down a little bit and make them [work] more on the defensive side.”
With Jimmy Butler taking his talents to South Beach, another question facing the Sixers was about who would be the team’s go-to scorer down the stretch. Butler tended to do his best work in the fourth quarter and hit several game-winning shots.
When asked who he thought would fill that role at media day, Embiid was quick to say he thought he could do it. While the league has changed and it’s tougher for big men to be go-to guys late in games, Embiid is the team’s “crown jewel,” as Brown has said innumerable times.
With the game tied at 103-103 with 7.4 seconds left, the Sixers once again dumped the ball into Embiid. With forward John Collins — who he savagely posterized in the third and picked up a technical for his shimmy celebration — hanging on for dear life, Embiid drew a foul. He made both free throws to cap off a perfect 10-for-10 performance from the line and seal the win.
For at least one night, it worked.
“That's something you work on all summer,” Embiid said. “You got to be ready for it. You got to be ready to be in that position, especially after we lost Jimmy, who was our guy especially in the fourth. So someone has got to step it up and I feel like that's me.”
As for the turnovers and dealing with double teams, Embiid is working on that as well.
“I mean every game it's coming,” Embiid said of the double teams. “You got to find the balance between being dominant and making the right plays. Being dominant, especially when the double teams come, that's the time to kind of find low, quick duck-ins and quick baskets in those situations.
“I thought for the most part tonight I was careless with a ball, but I felt like my patience in the post was better than previous years. Still getting better. I had a couple [plays where] they doubled hard and then I lost a couple balls. And then I had two turnovers where [I was] trying to dump it into the cutter so I got to make better reads. It's on me, but I'm definitely gonna get better.”
The thought of Embiid improving should be a scary proposition for the rest of the league.
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