There’s very little chance Joel Embiid can win MVP, but if you were going to make the case, Sunday’s game would be Exhibit A.
After going 4-4 in the eight games Embiid has missed since the All-Star break, the Sixers welcomed back their “crown jewel” in a big 106-89 win over the Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).
With a chance to take the season series against Indiana and take control of the Eastern Conference’s third seed, the All-Star center poured in 33 points in just 27 minutes.
If there were any questions about what Embiid means to this team, they were answered resoundingly.
“I mean where do I begin?" Brett Brown said. "You all see what I see. He is a difference maker in all ways, shapes and forms. The first thing you talk about is stuff at the rim, that’s what I felt the most pain when we didn’t have him, was just the rim protection …
“He took 15 free throws in 28 minutes — that’s a number, that’s a mentality. He kept wearing out their interior players to the point where he was obviously our bell ringer tonight.”
After knocking off some rust to start, Embiid started to impose his will on the Pacers’ big men. He was able to get Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis in foul trouble, with each player picking up their fourth foul early in the third quarter.
Getting to the line 15 times and making 11 allowed Embiid to get into the flow of the game offensively, leading to a dominant 18-point fourth quarter which helped seal the win.
“The game kept going, I just kept getting better,” Embiid said. “Getting to the line helped a lot, too. The game started slowing down for me, but my focus was really defensively, just by the way we’ve been playing and the way we were playing, so I felt like I had to — I don’t think I had a blocked shot today, but just being all over the place helping my teammates.”
He certainly was “all over the place.”
After two pretty dismal defensive efforts in Chicago and Houston, the Sixers held the Pacers to just 89 points, the fewest points they’ve allowed in a game this season. Indiana shot just 37 percent from the floor, the fourth-lowest mark for a Sixers’ opponent in 2018-19.
They were clearly missing their defensive anchor, who needed to get back in game shape after missing eight games. Embiid hadn’t played meaningful basketball in almost a month.
After a rigorous practice Saturday, Embiid and Brown weren’t sure if the big man would be ready to go for the critical matchup Sunday.
“Yesterday, basically [Brown] told me I wasn’t ready because yesterday after practice I was on the floor crying for my life,” Embiid said. “So I didn’t think I was going to come in and play [a lot].”
They got 27 minutes and it was clear they needed it.
“It’s been hard because you want to be out there,” Embiid said. “For the people that know me, you know I hate not playing. I always want to play and I always push to play, but at the end of the day, you got to trust all these guys. We’ve all done a great job as far as getting me back on the court, taking the right approach.
“I’m sure at some point, in these last 15 games I’m going to miss a game just to make sure that I’m good to go for the playoffs. But they’ve been doing a great job, from the coaching staff to the medical staff to the front office. It worked out pretty well and I feel better.”
Getting chemistry among the team’s starting five and having better communication on defense is important.
But nothing is more important than having a healthy Embiid.
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