Man, did I want the Sixers to win that game last night. Partly due to Lonzo Ball and Luke Walton pettiness, partly because I didn't want the Sixers to risk falling under .500 again after their upcoming meeting with the Warriors, partly just because c'mon it's the friggin' Lakers. But by the end of last night, it was mostly just because I didn't want the greatest individual performance of the Sixers' last decade to go to waste.
To say Joel Embiid just played the best game of his career is like saying Portugal. The Man just had the biggest pop hit of their career -- I mean, obv. Not only did JoJo demolish his previous career high (32, tied Monday night against the Clippers) in scoring with his 46, he also set new career highs in blocks (7) and assists (7) and came one off his career high in rebounds (16, set Monday night) with his 15 boards. He also went 14-20 from the field (and 16-19 from the line), only turned the ball over twice, and had at least one absolutely dynamite celebration shimmy. Oh, and the Sixers did win, 115-109, mostly 'coz of all that Embiid stuff.
This was the game we were waiting for. Again, not to sound ungrateful for JoJo's still-superlative first 10 games of the season, but it felt like he turned a corner Monday night against the Clippers, and last night he was finally fully activated. He moved better, he reacted better, he shot better, and he absolutely dominated in all phases of the game. The Lakers could not stop Embiid on defense, and poor Julius Randle probably lost a good half-season off his player development for having been tasked with even trying to defend him at various points in this one. JoJo says this is still just him at 69% fitness -- obligatory "nice" -- and if so, the rest of the league should use a collective monkey-paw wish on him never finding that final 31%.
Ben Simmons: also good. The Fresh Prince (and yeah, I'm OK with it -- more on that probably at a later date) finished with a mere 18-10-9-5, on 8-13 shooting with just a single turnover. Most importantly, he played brilliantly with Joel, delivering him a couple of those FGs on a purple-and-gold platter with his bounce passes and lobs around the basket. (Not to mention one kickout to Jo behind the arc -- he hit 2 of 3 from three as well, natch -- after posting up a smaller guard in the paint. The whole "Point guard setting up shop in the paint and then kicking out to our seven-foot center for three" thing... if we're supposed to get used to it at some point, it hasn't happened yet.)
Considering the hugeness of some of his recent performances, Robert Covington had a relatively small impact last night, making some big defensive plays and one dagger three, but still ending with just 12 points (5-9 FG, 2-5 3PT) and six boards, with just one steal. In fact, the entire rest of the squad outside Simmons and Embiid failed to provide a ton of support, with the non-Joel Sixers going a dying-of-thirst 5-30 from deep, including 0-8 from J.J. "Don't Come to L.A." Redick, who needs a homecoming rejuvenation in the worst way. There have been Sixers Ws this season where their three-point shooting bailed out flawed Simmons and Embiid performances, this one was definitely the other way around.
But of course, RoCo's big score yesterday came off the court, inking a four-year extension that it sounds like will bump his pay to a hefty $17 million for this season, but will only pay him between $10-12 mil annually for the four years to come. That's an absurd bargain for Philly: It's significantly less for one of the league's premiere 3-and-D guys than, for instance, what our Los Angeles friends are paying Luol Deng to not play for them in the seasons to come. Covington is top 10 in the league in Real Plus-Minus, but will be payed like a role player for the peak years of the Process. That's a bigger win than anything the Sixers did at Staples this week.
Of course, those L.A. wins were pretty nice, particularly last night's Embiid-powered performance. BTW, that 46 is more for any Sixer since Iverson over a decade ago, and more for any non-AI Sixer since Dana Barros' legendary 50-point night in '95. It's also the first time since blocks started being recorded (i.e. post-Wilt) that a player put up numbers equal to 46-15-7-7, and it's the third-highest overall Game Score (vis Basketball-Reference) posted by anyone this year, after 57- and 56-point efforts from LeBron James and James Harden, and the fourth-best in recorded Sixers history. I mean, if you're not Trusting the Process by now, what the hell are you trusting?