About a month ago, a smiling, dancing, preening Joel Embiid scored a career-high 49 points in the Sixers’ win over the Hawks at Wells Fargo Center.
That game, which will re-air tonight at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia, obviously features among the eight best performances of Embiid’s career to this point. Statistics matter a good deal in our countdown, but we also tried to factor in opponent, clutch contributions and overall importance to the Sixers.
8. Jan. 2, 2019 vs. Suns
With starters Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler out because of an upper respiratory infection, this was an odd game in Phoenix. Demetrius Jackson, then on a two-way contract with the Sixers, converted an alley-oop and two three-pointers. The team almost squandered a 30-point lead.
Embiid had 30 points and 14 rebounds — in the first half. He finished with 42 and 18, dominating Deandre Ayton and Richaun Holmes.
JO MY.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 3, 2019
He eurosteps his way right to the basket for a pair, right around his old teammate. pic.twitter.com/z5opuVLNBX
7. March 17, 2019 at Bucks
Embiid only shot 4 of 13 from three-point range and Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a career-high 52 points, but this was a superstar kind of performance.
He was the Sixers’ best player against the team with the best record in the NBA, posting 40 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and three steals. The win officially clinched the Sixers a playoff spot.
6. Nov. 9, 2018 vs. Hornets
With the Sixers down three points, less than 40 seconds left and a second-half collapse almost complete, Embiid had the ball at the top of the key against 6-foot Kemba Walker.
Instead of looking to use his extreme size advantage, he pump faked, stepped back to make sure his feet were behind the three-point line and nailed a game-tying jumper.
EMBIID TIES IT UP. pic.twitter.com/bT9YpscAwd— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 10, 2018
Twenty-one of his 42 points came in the fourth quarter and overtime. He added 18 rebounds, four blocks and four assists, too.
5. Dec. 12, 2019 at Celtics
After hearing blunt criticism from NBA on TNT’s Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, Embiid went for 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in Boston.
There was zero room to question his level of engagement or wonder whether he was too focused on saving himself for the playoffs.
“He was a beast — dominant,” Mike Scott told reporters. “Just took advantage of anyone guarding him. That’s how he should play all the time.”
4. March 20, 2019 vs. Celtics
With the Celtics leading by 11 early in the third quarter, Marcus Smart lost his composure. He shoved Embiid to the ground after taking exception to the big man elbowing him on an off-ball screen, earning an ejection.
The incident seemed to rejuvenate the Sixers and Embiid, who went on to score 15 points in the third period, 37 in the game, and also grabbed 22 rebounds. Along with the Smart altercation, his block on Kyrie Irving late in the fourth quarter was a memorable moment.
3. Feb. 24, 2020 vs. Hawks
The competition wasn’t great, but this might be the most “in the zone” we’ve seen Embiid. As is the case with most of these performances, he was highly efficient, requiring just 24 field-goal attempts to reach his career high.
JOEL EMBIID CAREER HIGH ON THE TRIPLE FOR 49 POINTS AND THE INCREDIBLE CELEBRATION AFTER. pic.twitter.com/heersMvk65— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) February 25, 2020
There was a bit of adversity as the Hawks won the third quarter by 18 points and held a one-point lead heading into the fourth. Embiid was decisive against Atlanta’s double teams all night, and he rarely made the wrong read. It just seemed like a game he wasn’t going to allow the Sixers to lose, and by the end of it the only thing anyone was worried about was how many points he had. (To be fair, things might have felt different if this one took place in Atlanta …)
2. Nov. 15, 2017 at Lakers
The numbers from this performance are staggering — 46 points (14 for 20 shooting), 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks. The way Embiid reached those statistics was equally impressive.
He had so much variety in the post — raw strength, face-up jumpers, Dream Shakes and agile footwork — so much all-around skill, and so much potential.
1. April 20, 2019 at Nets
Listed as doubtful prior to Game 4 of the Sixers’ first-round series in Brooklyn with the left knee tendinitis that had sidelined him for Game 3, Embiid suited up and was tremendous.
Jared Dudley seemingly wanted to be the primary storyline in this game. The veteran forward continued his series-long spat with Ben Simmons, and he also sprinted in after an Embiid foul on Jarrett Allen (deemed a Flagrant 1) to instigate a scuffle that spilled into the crowd. Both Dudley and Butler were ejected.
Embiid, who had 31 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and seven assists — including the feed on which Mike Scott “cashed out” for the game-winner — walked away from the incident with both hands up, unimpressed by Dudley.
“First of all, he’s a nobody,” he told TNT’s Ros Gold-Onwude. “I’m too valuable for my team. That’s why I didn’t react. … My teammates need me more than [the Nets] need him.”
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