By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 94, Toronto 89 – Box Score
All-Star voting has ended and the Philadelphia 76ers and their fans are waiting to find out whether Joel Embiid will be a starter or reserve down in New Orleans. The way Embiid played Wednesday night, though, All-Star starter might be setting the bar too low.
Facing a Raptors team that had the second-best offense in the league and had defeated Philadelphia 14 straight times, the Sixers held Toronto to just 89 points and the equivalent of just over a 92 offensive rating. The biggest reason, both literally and metaphorically, was Embiid, who finished the game with a +20 plus/minus in a game his team won by 5.
Embiid simply does so much on the defensive end of the floor. It’s incredible to watch him at over 7 feet tall switch onto Kyle Lowry (24 points) and DeMar DeRozan (25 points, 14 in the 4th quarter) and do more than a credible job defending them. Embiid consistently stifles the pick-and-roll and erases his teammates’ mistakes by providing an intimidating presence on the back line.
The closing sequence of the game perfectly demonstrated that, as right after Robert Covington blocked a Kyle Lowry three-point attempt, Lowry recovered and managed the beat RoCo on the sceond try, but Embiid was there to swallow the ball into his orbit. The fact that he basically tipped it to himself and drew a 6th foul on Lowry in the process was icing on the cake.
Timeout with 3.7 left. We're up, 94-89.
Here's the big JoJo block. pic.twitter.com/dCuSQHfxPX
— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) January 19, 2017
Oh yeah, and Joel Embiid is easily the team’s best offensive player as well. He went over 20 points for the 10th consecutive game (again, playing less than 30 minutes), finishing with 26 points on the evening. He saw his outside shot reemerge, hitting 2-5 from three, and knocked down 12 of 14 from the foul line. As Brett Brown alluded to in his post-game press conference, having a 5-man who can hit free throws is such a luxury in today’s game. You can keep your elite rim protector on the court in crunch time without giving the opposition a hacking target to try to shave down points.
There were plenty of Sixers who also deserved kudos, but I’ll only highlight Dario Saric, who finished with 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks off the bench. Earlier in the game, Dario caught an F-bomb from Brett about not moving on offense that was audible even to the fans at home. Later on, Saric was certainly moving on defense anyway, as he flashed back to the Olympics with this stunning block of Jared Sullinger. After the game, Brown said if Joel Embiid wasn’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him for Rookie of the Year.
Super Dario! pic.twitter.com/ZM0ddtYI0r
— Kyle Scott (@CrossingBroad) January 19, 2017
The Sixers now sit just 5.5 games out of a playoff spot. They’ve won 7 of their last 8 games when Joel Embiid plays. Just a few weeks ago, Philadelphia fans were calculating lottery odds in the Markelle Fultz sweepstakes. Now, they’re checking playoff projection percentages. The startling turn in fortune has been as rapid as Joel Embiid’s ascension to superstardom. When the Process is this good, you can’t help but trust it.