Back in March of 2019, Marcus Smart objected to a Joel Embiid screen, shoved the Sixers center to the floor and earned an ejection for his display of anger.
There weren’t any on-court confrontations between the two Wednesday night in the Sixers’ 117-109 win over the Celtics. However, Smart made it known after the game that he wasn’t pleased Embiid drew 21 free throws and didn’t like the way he’d done it.
“It’s tough, especially when we’ve got our hands up a lot of the time and he flails and he gets the call,” Smart told reporters. “And then down on the other end, we’ve got our guys attacking the rim, getting a lot of contact, and we’re just not getting the whistle. It’s tough to play like that. It’s tough.
“If the roles were reversed, I’d do it every time. I’d be on too if every time I threw my arms up or every time I got touched, I’m going to the free throw line. It’s kind of hard to get into a rhythm that way when you shoot 21 free throws alone and they allow you to hack on the other end. It’s tough. But we battled, the team did a good job. We were right there to give ourselves a win. Turn around and play on Friday.”
Embiid, who said his “whole body feels amazing” after he stayed in Philadelphia during the Sixers’ recent road trip because of right knee pain, was later informed about the gist of Smart’s remarks.
His response was reminiscent of Ben Simmons’ comment regarding Jared Dudley’s assessment that Simmons was an average half-court player.
“That’s coming from Jared Dudley,” Simmons said during the 2019 playoffs about the veteran forward, brushing aside the notion that he needed to say much about Dudley’s opinion. "Come on."
“Marcus Smart just told me that I flail a lot? Come on,” Embiid said Wednesday. “I’m sure he knows himself and he knows his game, too. He does a lot of that.”
Unlike Simmons, though, Embiid continued, defending his foul drawing as a valid skill.
“And I don’t think I do (flail). If you watch basketball and if you’re a student of the game and if you actually pay attention during the game, we all see every single foul, I get fouled,” Embiid said. “They probably don’t call all of them — like the last one when there were three minutes left and I went up, that was a foul, and they knew it but they didn’t call it. So there’s a lot that they don’t call, and there’s a lot that they call because they have to.
“The game is physical. Other teams tend to try to be extra physical against me and I guess I’m just smarter than everybody else — I just take advantage of it. I just take advantage of how they’re guarding me. You can call that, I don’t know, basketball IQ. If you’re going to put your hand up there, I’m going to take advantage of it and I’m going to get to the free throw line, because I know that I’m a great free throw shooter and that’s a better chance for me to help the team win in those situations.”
With his 17-for-21 performance, Embiid has now made 99 free throws and attempted 118 over his first 12 games this season. His career best for attempts per game is 10.1 during the 2018-19 season, and he’s currently close to that pace despite playing fewer minutes on average. His 83.8 percent mark from the foul line is tremendous for a typical 7-footer, though he wasn't happy about Wednesday’s four misses.
“Too many missed free throws,” he said. “But as a team, we did a good job, especially at the right times. They had that run in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter, (and then) the bench guys came in and gave us a spark. Tobias (Harris) had a great night. Like I said, he’s playing at an All-Star level, as he should be — and he should be an All-Star.
"Shake (Milton) was great — Sixth Man of the Year. Matisse (Thybulle), you can also include him in that Defensive Player of the Year (conversation). And Ben is Ben. He’s still doing a great job getting us together, guarding the other team’s best player and doing a great job.”
Smart attempted seven of the Celtics’ 20 free throws Wednesday, making four. He’d prefer for the free throw column to look more even Friday night, though there’s likely not much he can personally do on the court to stymie Embiid's interior excellence.