“I will tell my children one day I played Joel Embiid,” Harris said after scoring 22 points himself at the 112-105 victory. “When they’ll ask me who’s the best player I ever played , I will mention Joel Embiid. It’s an honour to be out there with him around the floor.”
Embiid, among those front-runners for MVP, looked every bit the contender for the award with his play against the Bulls. On a night when Ben Simmons was unavailable for a second consecutive game because of illness, the Sixers needed all the help they can get out of their superstar center. And, as he has so often done this year, he delivered.
However, as Embiid turned and looked to the empty stands within Wells Fargo Center, he raised his arms aloft with a grin on his face. And though the fans who generally would’ve showered him with compliments stay watching from home on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was little uncertainty about Embiid’s comfort level not just on this particular night, but during this year in Philadelphia.
“It just feels like the game has slowed down to me personally,” Embiid explained when asked why he’s been dominant in a season in which he is currently averaging a career-high 30.5 points to go with 11 rebounds and 3.5 assists. “I will say the only difference this season from last year isn’t too much about training; it is about me being prepared to just dominate each and every minute I’m on the ground. This past year, I was going through a rough time; it was just not there. And then also the moves which [fresh Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey] made, including all that shooting, is also helping a whole lot.
“But as I said, it’s not about training, it is about me turning a corner and being prepared to do it every single night on defense and on offense.”
The Bulls were those on the receiving end of the mistreat Friday night. While guard Zach LaVine — that Embiid said should be an All-Star when reserves are named — finished with 30 points, he did so while moving just 9-for-28 in the field, something several Sixers imputed to the job Embiid did inside and second-year guard Matisse Thybulle did about the perimeter.
Meanwhile, the Sixers needed each one of Embiid’s things to hold off Chicago thanks to Simmons’ lack. Embiid, Harris and Danny Green (13 points) combined to score 85 points between them and were the sole Sixers to finish the game in double figures. Embiid put his career high when he split a pair of free throws with 29.1 seconds to go.
He got those 50 points using an range of moves which have grown familiar to everyone who has watched this season: visiting the free throw line a slew (he was 15-of-17 on Friday); not settling for 3-pointers (he had been 1-for-2, but his efforts are down and he’s shooting a career-high percentage); also he was dominant inside the arc (he had been 16-for-25).
It is a combination of skills that makes Embiid as adaptable of a scorer as anybody in the league, let alone facilities.
“That is what makes me unguardable,” Embiid said of his varied offensive skills. “If you’re going to audience, I’m going to find my way into the free throw line or I’m likely to end up at the basket. If you back up on me, I’ve got the hesi — which hesitation shot — and my favorite, just pull-up shot. [That is ] just an easy shot I get in the article.
“So it is difficult [to stop me] when you have got this much. And also off the dribble just dribbling the ball and just making things occur. I’ve been adding a lot to my match, and it has been working nicely.”
He added that he expects the changes he has made to his offensive game will probably have him prepared for the challenge of scoring at the playoffs, when teams have typically relied on perimeter scorers to lead the way and if Philadelphia — out of if it had Jimmy Butler a couple of years ago — has generally faltered at that conclusion.
“I am excited because that’s what you need in the playoffs,” Embiid explained. “Especially when you’re likely to play with a group four to seven times and they’re likely to game-plan [against you]. Sometimes, you know, I’m going to get to shoot double-teams. Occasionally I have to pass that, occasionally I’ve got to figure that out and perform double- and – triple-teams and these types of shots you can’t guard.
“You can’t shield a step-back. You can’t guard a catch-and-shoot shot. I think it’s likely to go a ways, and I feel those shots are going to help me perform for another 10-15 decades.”
The win, however, ensured Rivers would be in charge of Kevin Durant’s staff in the next month’s All-Star Game, as Philadelphia clinched having the best record in the Eastern Conference at the end of this weekend’s matches.
Rivers, however, was less enthusiastic about that than he had been Embiid’s dominant performance.
“Well, you know, I will try to not get in trouble,” Rivers said with a laugh. “I’m very happy for our staff that we’re in this position. I believe I’m going to stop there. I think that could be wise.”