“You Can Tell he Thought we Were Going to Trap Him” – Joel Embiid Describes Key Defensive Play in Atlanta Win

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers were trailing by double digits on Monday night and looked to inevitably be falling back to 11-10 after a pair of wins in Orlando. Enter Joel Embiid, who hit a step-back jumper to take the fourth quarter lead before sealing the game with a defensive stop and some free throws at the line:

Embiid went into detail on this play, saying:

“In that situation, from the start of the play you can tell he thought we were going to trap him and the other guy was going to set a screen for him to try to get me on them. We were going one through five so I was going to have to guard him straight up anyways. The way I positioned myself, I could have trapped him and try to take the ball out of his hands. As the best player on the team, you want the last shot and you want to be able to make the last play to be able to make sure your team wins. In that situation, that’s why he ended up sending who ever I was guarding.”

It’s an interesting play. Embiid does show as though he’s going to trap/blitz, but pulls out and drifts back with John Collins. There’s no screen and no switch, so Trae Young waves Collins off, drives left, tries to catch Embiid in no-man’s land, and instead fires a lob that gets picked off. If they had trapped there, Young is either getting the ball out and the Sixers are scrambling in rotation, or Embiid gets switched onto Trae on the perimeter, which would have been less than ideal.

Joel finished with 30 points on 50% shooting and hit 12 of 13 from the nail, essentially picking up right where he left off almost ten days ago before going on the shelf. He’s now scored at least 30 points in five straight games,

Perhaps more importantly, the Sixers’ defense has been much improved. Maybe that’s the product of James Harden and Tyrese Maxey not playing, but they’ve logged some solid games on that end of the floor.

“I think for one, it’s communication,” said Shake Milton of the increased defensive presence. “Two, guys are just scrambling and we’re in that mode. There’s just been a good rhythm, overall, defensively. Covering for one another. Guys just making plays for each other. It’s imperative that you do the simple things like keeping the ball in front. But, you also have to have that help side and crashing because with Jo not there, we’re a little bit smaller. So, it’s important that we get those rebounds so we can get out on offense and make plays.”

Specific to this game, the Sixers went zone and flustered Atlanta with that setup, which really helped them work their way back into the game and erase a 16-point deficit.

“We loved it,” said Doc Rivers after the win. “They were killing our man defense early. And you just need to go to that to get them out of rhythm. We felt like, and I can’t remember the game. Maybe it was the back to back. Maybe it was the last game we lost. On back to backs, zones are great because guys can get some rest and still be out on the floor and play some offense. So we talked about it. Miami, I think yesterday played 80-percent of the game in zone, so we got a chance to look at (Atlanta’s) zone offense. It’s funny, when you look at it, teams have one or two zone offenses. They have 30 to 40 man plays, so we just felt like it was easier to scout their zone offense than it was to guard them in man.”

They showed this graphic on the broadcast last night, which I thought was apropos:

Overall, the Sixers now have the 14th-best offensive rating and 3rd-best defensive rating in the NBA, and they’re 12-9 after hovering around .500 for the early part of the season, so we’re seeing progress here. Good trends as the injured guys continue to work their way back.