All-Star Joel Embiid leads Sixers over Celtics

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 89, Boston 80 – Box Score

The Philadelphia 76ers are undefeated when Joel Embiid takes the court as a confirmed All-Star. Early Thursday evening, we learned that the big man was one of the five players voted to be an All-Star starter out of the Eastern Conference, becoming the first All-Star starter for Philadelphia since Allen Iverson.

It’s a fitting throughline between eras. Embiid’s emergence as an otherworldly talent has provided Sixers fans the hope of true contending status down the road, the first time we can say that since the peak of the AI experience. Embiid is also the first member of the 2014 draft class to make the All-Star team. In case you needed additional confirmation, Sam Hinkie and the front office at the time certainly made the correct decision in taking the highest ceiling player third overall that summer.

The good vibes carried over into Thursday night’s game in Boston. The Celtics have an All-Star starter of their own, but Kyrie Irving sat the game out with a sore left shoulder. Without him there to run the offense, Boston’s offense seemingly fell to pieces. The Celtics committed 15 first half turnovers, one more than their season average of 14 per game. As a result, the opening half was a truly ugly affair, ending with the Sixers ahead 39-32, in a game more resembling a Big Ten battle than one between two of the most talented teams in the NBA.

In the third quarter, Embiid showed why he was voted an All-Star going off for 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in the period alone. Philadelphia outscored Boston by 13 points in the third when Embiid was on the floor, as he either scored at will, or more impressively, made the correct read to find open teammates. Here, Dario Saric (who played well with 16 points on the game) recognizes Al Horford’s attention has drifted to Embiid, and cuts to the rim. JoJo hits him with a perfect pass in tight quarters to earn a trip to the free throw line.

Later in the period, Embiid recognizes the double team is on, finding a wide-open T.J. McConnell (15 points) on the opposite side of the floor for a three-pointer.

Safe to say T.J. was fired up about his All-Star teammate’s play.

We know Embiid can score. He’s too big, has too many post moves, and possesses too sweet a shooting stroke not to do so. But having the wherewithal to find teammates when defenses overcommit to him is the next stage in his development, providing an open shot for the offense rather than a turnover in traffic. The fact that the next stage is basically here is why he’s more than worthy of the All-Star selection. With a final line of 26 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks, Boston was basically helpless to stop him.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sixers game if they didn’t try to blow a huge lead. After winning the turnover battle for most of the game, Philadelphia coughed it up a whopping 7 times in the fourth quarter, allowing Boston to cut the lead to 7 with a few minutes left. Fortunately, a handful of Celtics three-point attempts that could have really made it a nailbiter rimmed out. There were be no repeat of the London collapse and the Sixers would escape with the victory.

Congratulations to the Sixers on the win, putting them above .500 at 21-20, despite playing through a lot of turmoil and injury. Most of all, congratulations to Joel Embiid on being voted an All-Star starter. In his few years since being drafted, he’s had to overcome a lot, both in terms of his physical health and tragedy off the court. Embiid has worked through it all with a smile on his face, maintaining an upbeat attitude as one of the most likable guys in the league. It will be a joy to watch him out there next month, rightfully sharing the court with the best players in the world.

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