Joel Embiid often takes his time between the final buzzer and his postgame session with reporters.
About an hour after the Sixers sealed a rather contentious 137-133 win Wednesday night over the Nets, Embiid walked to the podium. Any plans he had to maintain a straight face were futile. He’d sent a tweet seconds earlier.
The tweet featured a 45-second video with the crotch-chop, professional wrestling-inspired celebration that Embiid pulled out following an and-one layup in the third quarter — and that Nets superstar Kevin Durant, sending in-game tweets because he’s out with a right knee MCL sprain, called “trash.”
“It’s no secret that Triple H is my guy,” Embiid said. “And obviously DX, when I used to watch wrestling, those were my guys. Anytime I get the chance … I haven’t done it in a while, so I just felt like it was a good and-one. I got fouled and I threw the ball. I didn’t even see the rim. And I felt like it was deserving of a good celebration, and that’s why I went to it.”
The first second of Embiid’s tweeted video just so happened to include Ben Simmons enjoying Embiid’s celebration after an and-one hoop against Karl-Anthony Towns in April of 2021. After playing the first 275 games of his career as a Sixer, Simmons opposed Embiid for the first time Wednesday.
Even the collective realization that Embiid had a post-up opportunity against Simmons created a crescendo at Wells Fargo Center atypical for a regular-season game. Embiid deflected questions about the matchup with Simmons but did acknowledge he was determined to attack.
“Nothing. Like every single night, just freaking kill whoever’s in front of me," Embiid said of his approach against Simmons. “My mentality is always about scoring and if I get doubled, make the right pass. But if I get to play 1-on-1 and I see an opportunity to go score, I’m going to go score.”
Embiid did not score as much as usual Wednesday. A 26-point performance (6 for 18 from the floor, 13 for 13 at the foul line) dropped Embiid’s season average to 33.4 points per game, which ranks second in the NBA. Meanwhile, Simmons scored all 12 of his points in the second half, then watched the final 8:57 from the bench.
Simmons and Embiid each received technical fouls, although they didn’t stem from the same incident. Georges Niang got under Simmons’ skin early in the fourth quarter enough to elicit a retaliatory push. Embiid and Nic Claxton (25 points on 11-for-12 shooting, 11 rebounds) both received technicals in the first.
“He said something he shouldn’t have,” Embiid said of Claxton. “That’s why, when I walked up to his face, I told him to say it to my face again. That’s why he looked away and he didn’t say it again, because … he knows why. There’s not a lot of times where I get in those situations, but I’m not going to allow any sort of disrespect. That’s why he couldn’t say it to my face again.”
Wednesday didn’t appear to be a smooth night physically for Embiid, who had been listed as questionable pregame with left foot soreness. Though he suited up and played 35 minutes, he often did not look like a player at 100 percent health. On top of the lingering left foot issue, Embiid also bent down, held his right shoulder and grimaced after off-ball grappling that resulted in Joe Harris’ sixth foul.
“I think everybody’s hurt,” he said. “I’ve just got to fight through it, but I’m good. Just got to keep pushing and try to keep doing it. It’s not easy, but got to keep doing it.”
Physical discomfort aside, it sure seemed that Embiid had a good time. And perhaps Durant will be back on the floor when the Sixers visit Brooklyn on Feb. 11.
“I wish every game was like that,” Embiid said. “It’s fun. That’s why you play this sport: To be able to compete for these moments, to enjoy it. For me, it’s all about enjoying it. Tonight, I enjoyed it. It makes me want to be more aggressive and it makes me want to win more, too. So that’s a key for me.”