76ers

You can start adding 'clutch' to Joel Embiid's long list of superlatives

You can start adding 'clutch' to Joel Embiid's long list of superlatives

Joel Embiid has taken on a ton of responsibility for the Sixers. He's the "commander in chief" of their defense, as Brett Brown likes to say, their dominant scorer in the post, and the heartbeat of their team.

Embiid wants to add another job to his list. He wants to be clutch.

In Friday night's dramatic 133-132 overtime win over the Hornets (see observations), Embiid was clutch again and again and again. He drew fouls at will, knocked down crucial free throws at the line and buried a three-pointer to tie the game with 33.6 seconds left in regulation.

He scored 21 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked four shots. 

In short, he saved the Sixers from a catastrophic loss after the team blew a 21-point third-quarter lead.

“Gotta make ‘em," Embiid said of his late-game free throws. "They call me clutch for a reason. Gotta make ‘em. … In practice, they call me clutch. I’ve still yet to show it in a game. Tonight I feel like I did a better job. That’s my job. I gotta step up when there’s an opportunity.”

For Embiid, free throws are an essential part of his "clutch" repertoire. In clutch situations (defined as the last five minutes of a game with a point difference of five or less), Embiid is 16 for 20 from the line, the most attempts and makes of any player in the NBA.

He's shot 7 for 18 from the floor in those situations, but that reliable ability to draw whistles is why he's scored 32 points in 31 clutch minutes this season, per NBA.com/Stats. It's not his prettiest attribute, but his rip-through move when defenders reach or even just place an arm near his air space is absolutely lethal. 

Last season, Embiid posted 83 points in 113 clutch minutes. Now, he's unquestionably the man the Sixers turn to time after time down the stretch, and he feels confident in his skills when the game is on the line.

“I can use power," Embiid said. "I can use finesse. Last year in the last-minutes situations I struggled a lot and I feel I’ve been doing a better job. Still got a lot to show and still got a lot to prove on, so I’m excited.”

Fans of every team across the league chant "M-V-P" whenever their team's best player is having a good game. It's just the way it is; Embiid is probably going to hear those chants at most home games for the rest of his career, regardless of whether they're warranted.

But through the first 13 games of the season, all the MVP hype around Embiid is justified. He's averaging 28.8 points (second in the league), 12.8 rebounds (seventh) and 2.4 blocks (fourth). His early case for Defensive Player of the Year is strong — through the Sixers' opening 12 games, Embiid had defended more shots than any player in the league (18.9). Opponents were shooting 43.3 percent against him, the lowest percentage of any player defending at least 15 shots per game.

Embiid also leads the league in one stat that would have been unfathomable two years ago — minutes. After years of (understandable) caution surrounding his health, Embiid doesn't ever want to have to sit and watch his team in crunch time again, like he did when he had a minutes restriction. 

"If these guys ever tell me to take a game off, I might kill them," he said. 

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Sixers Talk podcast: Ben Simmons' recent play; Kobe Bryant's legacy

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Sixers Talk podcast: Ben Simmons' recent play; Kobe Bryant's legacy

On the latest Sixers Talk podcast presented by Wilmington University, Amy Fadool and Paul Hudrick discuss how great Ben Simmons has been during Joel Embiid's absence as well as Kobe Bryant's legacy.

• Simmons has been on another level, but how will it look when Embiid returns?

• Could Matisse Thybulle make an All-Defensive team as a rookie?

• Discussing the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, and our best memories of the Philly native.

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Tobias Harris remembers his hero Kobe Bryant

Tobias Harris remembers his hero Kobe Bryant

CAMDEN, N.J. — Sneaker choice is a big deal for NBA players. There’s Nike, Jordan, Under Armor, Adidas. If you go through the Sixers’ locker room, there’s a decent mix. While guys may stick to a brand, they don’t all necessarily stick with one style or a signature player shoe.

If you go to Tobias Harris’ locker, it’s the same every time: He’s wearing a version of the Nike Mambas.

The entire basketball world was shaken with the news that NBA great Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people killed Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabassas, California.

“He was my hero as a kid,” Harris said. “Hearing about him getting up at 6 in the morning to go work out and being the first in the gym, those things inspired me as a player coming up. I really try to model my work ethic after a guy like Kobe. It’s sad news to hear. … I heard the news and just really couldn’t believe it.”

Harris and Al Horford spoke, along with head coach Brett Brown and GM Elton Brand, at the team's practice facility Monday. 

A veteran in his ninth season, Harris’ career intersected with Bryant for a couple years. As a kid, Harris grew up rooting for those Lakers teams led by Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Even then, Harris said he was modeling his work ethic after Bryant's.

While he played against him a couple times during his career, Harris got an extraordinary opportunity during this past offseason.

This summer I got to go out to L.A. with a group of 15 guys and we were working out two-a-days,” Harris said. “During those two-a-days, I got a chance to talk to him, communicate with him and pick his brain on some different things basketball wise. That for me was like a dream come true, being able to get lessons from Kobe — that was once in a lifetime. And those dialogues, those communications, I’ll never forget.

Despite Bryant's untimely death, the league made the decision to carry out its slate of games Sunday. It was an emotional night around the NBA as teams and players honored the future Hall of Famer in a variety of ways.

The Sixers have a game to play Tuesday night against the Golden State Warriors. In the city where Bryant was born, it’s sure to be an emotional night. Harris said the team has discussed ways to honor Bryant but didn’t divulge them Monday.

While the emotions will still likely be raw, Harris will look to getting to play the game he loves as therapy.

A lot of emotions overweigh a lot of things,” Harris said. “Basketball has always been a peaceful place for me. Even being out there today and practicing, it was kind of relaxing to just get out there and compete, and I believe it was probably the exact same way for Kobe. Just to be able to go out there and be around teammates and use that competitive fire. … It’s always good to play the game and love the game on top of that stuff off the court.

Like so many other players already have, Harris will likely have a message and show of respect for Bryant on whichever style of Mambas he’ll be wearing.

And he’ll carry the memories of the past summer and the conversations he shared with Bryant.

“He was telling me he pulls for the Lakers heavy, but he was telling me, ‘Man, I love Philly. Philly’s my home,’ that’s what he told me. I knew he was watching the game, us vs. the Lakers [on Saturday], and I knew he was impressed with our play. … The whole timeline is surreal to me.”

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