76ers

'Unstoppable' Joel Embiid has eventful and dominant night in win vs. Celtics

'Unstoppable' Joel Embiid has eventful and dominant night in win vs. Celtics

It seemed like the psyche of the entire fan base depended upon Wednesday night’s game.

It’s no secret the Celtics have owned the Sixers recently. And when Boston held an 11-point lead at the half, the thought of “here we go again” likely crept into the heads of the Wells Fargo Center crowd. 

Enter Joel Embiid.

The All-Star center was dominant in the Sixers’ 118-115 win over the Celtics (see observations), posting 37 points and 22 rebounds in 41 minutes — the second-most minutes he’s played this season.

“Jo has done that countless amount of times this year so it’s no surprise to you, it’s no surprise to me [or] to anybody else watching this interview,” Jimmy Butler said. “He is a force to be reckoned with, man. He does it all. He’s carried us night in and night out. We’re grateful for it. We need him healthy moving forward.”

As his eight-game absence after the All-Star break showed, as Embiid goes so go the Sixers. After he struggled during the team’s most recent loss to Boston, a lot was made of Al Horford’s effectiveness in guarding him.

Embiid took note and learned from that matchup.

I figured out that when I play low and I’m in attack mode and I want to get to the rim, I’m basically unstoppable and I’m going to get to the free throw line,” Embiid said while wearing a hoodie that read "BBQ CHKN." “Tonight I felt like I was aggressive from the start and I’ve got to have that same mentality every night.

To say Embiid was able “to get to the free throw line” would be a gross understatement. He lived at it, making an absurd 20 of 21 from the line. If that sounds like a rare feat, it’s because it is. Embiid is the first seven-footer in NBA history to take 20 foul shots in a game and shoot at least 95 percent from the foul line, per Basketball Reference.

Two of those free throws were rewarded by virtue of a flagrant foul. Marcus Smart, who was sent to the floor via an Embiid screen, thought it would be a good idea to then shove Embiid while his back was turned. Smart was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected. The play seemed to ignite Embiid — who was hit with a technical — and 20,000-plus people that were looking for any reason to go crazy.

But for as special as Embiid was on the offensive end of the floor, it was again his defense that truly propelled the Sixers. The box score shows only one block, but it was arguably the biggest play of the game.

First, you need to go back to the beginning of the game. The Sixers’ switch-heavy defense burned them early as Embiid got matched up on All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who hit a couple first-quarter threes. There were other plays where Embiid was switched on to Irving that ended in a foul — one of those being questionable enough to provoke a rare technical from Brett Brown. 

With the Sixers clinging to a 116-113 lead with 30.7 seconds left, Embiid found himself on Irving yet again. This time, Embiid allowed Irving to slip to the basket but was able to recover to block the shot without fouling.

It’s a play not many seven-footers could make.

Look, we're asking a lot of Jo,” JJ Redick said. “It's a tough cover because if he switches onto Irving or [Terry] Rozier, that's a tough cover. If they do the throw back to Horford and he's got a long closeout, that's nearly impossible, so we're asking a lot of him. It was a huge defensive play. And really, it was almost two plays — it was the block and then the defensive rebound after that.

Having the best season of his young career and with MVP-type performances like Wednesday, Embiid has shown a touch of humility … just a touch.

He hasn’t been talking as much trash on social media — though he did have a little fun postgame — and he’s been much more complimentary of his opponents.

But after a game like this, his emotions were running high as he declared himself “the best defensive player in the league” during his walk-off interview with ESPN. 

A reporter offered him a chance to walk back the comment. 

He, of course, doubled down.

“I just said it again. I am. I always say it. I say it all the time,” Embiid said. “I try to do the best job I can with my teammates’ help. I really focus on that end and one of my goals is to win the Defensive Player of the Year. I’m going to keep doing my job and try to help us defensively.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: New-look starting 5; What food would you break quarantine for?

Sixers Talk podcast: New-look starting 5; What food would you break quarantine for?

On this edition of Sixers Talk, we discuss which food we'd break quarantine for, the Sixers' new-look starting five and much more.

(2:16) — Richaun Holmes forced to quarantine after leaving the bubble for food.
(10:28) — Two players test positive for COVID-19 while inside the bubble.
(15:54) — With Shake Milton at point guard, it sounds like Sixers are leaning toward a new starting five.

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Why Shake Milton could thrive in strange NBA playoffs this year

Why Shake Milton could thrive in strange NBA playoffs this year

On March 1, Shake Milton introduced himself to the NBA world by dropping 39 points on the Clippers in L.A on national TV.

Not bad for a guy that was told he was out of the rotation before an injury to Ben Simmons thrust him into the starting lineup.

But that seems to be the story of Milton. He’s unflappable. Whatever his life or career presents him, he keeps moving forward.

As the Sixers continue their training camp at Disney World to prepare for the resumed NBA season, Brett Brown has been using Milton as his starting point guard, moving Simmons to the four. That means the 23-year-old that’s played 52 career NBA games appears to have the inside track on a starting job for a team looking to go on a deep playoff run.

No pressure or anything there.

There are people that just thrive in these circumstances. You can throw them in intense situations, and they act so calm you have to wonder if they even have a pulse. Milton’s imperturbable demeanor has likely helped him get to where he is. 

He was a freshman in high school when he lost his father. Myron Milton was just 43 when he passed away suddenly. The two were close and basketball was a big part of their bond. His dad told him to “just go out there and play like you’re the best player on the floor,” Shake said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters.

The Oklahoma native was recruited to play at SMU by former Sixers coach and Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who said he “got lucky” in landing Milton over the likes of the University of Oklahoma and Indiana. Milton had a strong college career but that’s also where injuries became an unfortunate part of his story.

Milton suffered a hand injury that limited him to 22 games his junior year and final season for the Mustangs. A back injury presumably caused him to slip to the back end of the draft. After making strides at the NBA level his rookie season, he suffered another hand injury. Just three games into the 2019-20 season — and when it appeared he had a legitimate chance at a spot in the rotation — a knee injury sidelined him.

Ironically, injuries are what led to his next prolonged NBA opportunity. When Simmons went down, Milton stepped in and produced in a big way, averaging 17.8 points and shooting 60.4 percent from three over his last nine games before play was suspended.

All the injuries and time spent with the Delaware Blue Coats has led to this moment, where he could potentially be the team's starting point guard in the postseason.

“You won’t find a better kid than him, and somebody that really trusts the process,” Larry Brown said as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast in May. “And Philly did a remarkable job with him. Playing in the G League in Delaware, Shake told me was huge. …

“The greatest thing is they had patience with him. They had some injuries and you never know when the opportunity is going to be there for you to show you can play.”

Milton has rewarded that patience already. Now, he’ll have to try to carry the momentum he built before the season was suspended onto one of the biggest NBA stages.

But it’s all part of Milton’s story and why if anyone can do this at a young age and with so little NBA experience, it could be him.

“There’s a poise that he has as a person that I’m assuming everybody on this call that has interviewed him feels,” Brett Brown said in a video conference call with reporters Tuesday. “And I think that can help him navigate through a pressure situation of the NBA playoffs. I do believe how he’s wired from a human perspective can help him deal with that environment I think in a more calm way.”

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers