A couple weeks ago, Joel Embiid scared the hell out of Sixers fans with his cryptic tweet quoting the Batman villain Two-Face.
It was the same quote used by his friend Jimmy Butler while he was toiling away in Minnesota. In retrospect, the character Embiid was referencing was appropriate.
While Embiid has struggled with his own duality this season, he’s seemed to have found a balance recently as evidenced by his 49-point performance in the Sixers’ 129-112 win Monday (see observations).
I said that I was gonna get back to having fun,” Embiid said. “Having fun comes in different forms. I don't always have to be smiling or laughing all the time. I can have fun just dominating the game. Obviously tonight was just one of those nights where I was having fun like the old days. Just having fun with the crowd. Some nights, I just might want to dominate and stay quiet.
Indeed, Embiid did appear to be having an awful lot of fun out there. Then again, it’s easy to when you’re dominating the way the All-Star center did.
His 49 points were the most scored by a Sixer since Allen Iverson put up 53 against Atlanta on Dec. 23 of 2005. The only other players in franchise history to put up 49 points and 14 rebounds are Hall of Famers, Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain and Dolph Schayes.
While we’ve known that Embiid is capable of nights like this, there haven’t been as many of these types of performances as there have been in the past. The last time Embiid truly took over a game in the fashion he did against the Nets last week and the Hawks Monday was in a big road win in Boston in mid-December.
You might recall that happened after Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal called Embiid’s effort level out. Embiid admitted then that he wasn’t having as much fun this season as he had in the past. Unfortunately for the Sixers and Embiid, the 25-year-old big man still couldn’t find consistency before suffering a torn ligament in the ring finger on his left hand.
When Embiid returned after a nine-game absence, he still wasn’t quite right. The splint on his left hand was clearly giving him trouble and he was letting it affect other aspects of his game. Embiid said prior to the matchup against the Clippers before the break that he needed to have a different mindset. He proceeded to play well that night.
Though he wanted to clarify his “best player in the world” comments from after the win over Brooklyn — although he kind of didn’t — the All-Star Game seemed to give him a different level of confidence.
What I said was that All-Star Game, fourth quarter, I'm out there with some of the guys that I consider the best players in the world and I'm out there just dominating,” Embiid said. “So to me, I just felt like that was a chance for me to prove that I deserve being in that conversation of being the best player in the world.
“But like I said tonight, if I play like that every night … I mean, what more can you say? I just gotta keep on doing it. I know I'm not, but I do believe it because I gotta prove it. I gotta win. My goal is to win a championship. That's how you prove that you are the best.
The whole winning thing may be more difficult for at least the foreseeable future. We’re still awaiting an update on Ben Simmons, who irritated a lower back injury on Saturday night in Milwaukee. Simmons is still being evaluated and the team and his representation are working together to decide a course of action, per a team spokesperson.
With Simmons out and the team sitting in fifth in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers are going to need Embiid to play like this over the last 24 games of the season and beyond.
“He knows it more than I can say it,” Brett Brown said. “We talked a little bit about it. With the news on Ben and him not being here, it’s clear he’s gotta come out and he’s gotta play like he did tonight, for the most part. Nobody’s asking him to get 50 every night, but his mentality is the thing that most impressed me. And we saw the same thing against Brooklyn. We’re all going to point to the numbers and this and that. The bottom line is this: When he comes out with that activity, that energy, that mentality, he makes a statistician work and we will win a lot of games.”
So which Embiid can we expect? Whichever version gives the Sixers the best chance to win.
I think I'm finding that balance of sometimes having fun, smiling, and sometimes just being serious and just doing my job, and I can do my job smiling and I can do my job being serious. I don't know. I don't control it. Sometimes I'm gonna mix it, but at the end of the day, whatever gets us the win, that's all I care about.
Harvey Dent. Two-Face. The Process. JoJo.
After a night like Monday, you can just call him dominant.
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