Point-Center Joel Embiid – Observations from Sixers 137, Heat 134 (OT)

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The product the NBA is putting out on the floor right now might not be the highest level basketball we’ve ever seen, but holy cow is it entertaining.

Tuesday night the Sixers, down three starters, won an overtime game in which Danny Green had to play 50 minutes. Joel Embiid scored 45 points. Miami, missing eight players, shot 56 three pointers in a game where three dudes fouled out. It was incredible watching this thing unfold on the court, with Dakota Mathias and Isaiah Joe hitting clutch shots to keep the Sixers in it.

In retrospect, a team playing at home and featuring Embiid and Ben Simmons probably should not have required overtime to beat a Heat squad playing without Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, and Avery Bradley. Simmons fouled out with two field goal attempts and Tyrese Maxey later exited the game, which meant Doc Rivers didn’t even have a point guard to work with in overtime.

So they gave the ball to Embiid and let him work from the perimeter as a self-creator against a team that had no choice but to stick a rookie power forward on him.

“You know, sometimes life is luck,” Rivers said after the game. “We worked on this play (Tuesday) before shootaround. It’s called ‘delay,’ where we throw it to the middle, which is Joel, and he becomes your point guard on the plays. I didn’t know we were gonna run it entirely for the fourth quarter and overtime, because we had no choice but to run it. But it’s funny. We were laughing on the bench. It’s amazing. We work on it (before the game), and then it ends up being a savior for us.”

Here’s a batch of those ‘delay’ plays in overtime:

It’s not even really a play. They just toss the ball to Embiid as a trailing big, stick two shooters in the corners, put the other two guys at the break line, and then let Joel do his thing. It’s less of a Nikola Jokic quarterbacking, because Joel isn’t slinging passes all around the court, but in this case, he can take Precious Achiuwa off the bounce even as a seven-foot big man.

“It’s hard being limited to being a post player in this league, especially with the way they guard me,” said Embiid. “They’re going to front me, they’re going to send doubles, triples, and quadruple-teams. It can get frustrating at times, especially if we’re not making shots. I think the last few games a different part of my game has been open. I’ve always had it; but the last two games I’ve had to do it, and it’s been working well. I’m enjoying it, just playing point-center.”

It’s definitely something to build on. Embiid is obviously the team’s best player, but it’s hard to close when you’re a post player. There really are not any centers who are “closers” in the modern-day NBA. But if his game continues to round out in this fashion, there’s something to build on with giving him the ball at higher starting points and letting him operate in that fashion instead.

45 points and 16 rebounds for Joel. 13 for 13 from the foul line. On the second night of a back-to-back, no less. He continues to play at an MVP level.

The same Ben Simmons

Talk about a frustrating Simmons game. He fouled out with 5 points, 6 rebounds, and 12 assists while only attempting two field goals in the entire game, one of which was a dunk.

The most bothersome sequence was this one, when Kelly Olynyk gave him the foul line and Simmons stopped to reset instead:

They recycled the possession and he drove to his right and got a tough floater to fall. Was that more or less difficult than taking a wide open, straight-on 14-footer?

This is the thing that kills me about Ben. We’ve watched teams meet him at the foul line and deny angles for three seasons now. Miami does it extremely well. Boston walled him off in the 2018 playoffs. He is 6’10” and can shoot right over that, but refuses to do it. Imagine if there was even a threat of him shooting that shot, which resulted in teams abandoning the sag and wall, and then coming out to meet him higher up the floor. Simmons would be able to drive right past them and/or attack close outs at an elite level, because he’s a fantastic downhill player.

But, because he still refuses to shoot, there’s no close out, and therefore nothing to attack. He’ll continue to find success playing his typical game, but it’s the same game we’ve seen since the very beginning, and it is not very congruent with what’s required in a half-court, late-game, playoff scenario.

Other notes:

  • Danny Green is a thousand years old and he played 49 minutes,” said Rivers after the game. Green shot 21 three pointers and hit nine of them, falling just one make short of the single-game franchise record. He’s now tied with Dana Barros, who hit nine triples in a 1995 game against the Suns.
  • Green, somehow, logged six offensive rebounds. The one at the end of the fourth quarter helped force overtime. It was immense.
  • Mike Scott played 46 minutes in his second game back from injury.
  • This game featured 111 three-pointers. That is incredible.
  • Good stat here courtesy of the Sixers: “Tonight marked Embiid’s ninth career 40-point, 10-rebound game. The only 76ers with more such performances are Hall of Famers WILT CHAMBERLAIN (31), CHARLES BARKLEY (13) and BILLY CUNNINGHAM (10), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Embiid is the first player in the NBA this season to post at least 40 and 10 in a game.”
  • Embiid has now scored at least 20 points in a single quarter three times in his career.
  • It was nice to watch this game and take a break from the Eagles.
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