Joel Embiid shines in All-Star debut

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Team LeBron 148, Team Steph 145 – Box Score

It was a busy weekend in Los Angeles for Sixers big man Joel Embiid. Friday night, he started in the Rising Stars game, where he, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric helped Team World to a dominating victory. One night later, he participated in the skills competition, falling in the second round, but adding his own unique flavor to the proceedings by purposely throwing his passes away rather than trying to get them in the cylinder (to save time, you see). Sunday night was the main event, however, as Embiid was taking the court alongside the best players in the game of basketball as an All-Star starter.

To the surprise of no one, in Philadelphia at least, Embiid proved he belonged amongst the game’s elites. The Sixers center finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks, also rekindling that rivalry with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook along the way. It’s safe to say Sixers fans are going to have the Thunder’s visit to the Wells Fargo Center circled on their calendars next season. This sequence where Westbrook dared Embiid to shoot a three, Embiid drained it, and then blocked Westbrook at the basket on the other end was a key highlight of the game.

Most encouragingly, when it came to crunch time and the top players in the game ratcheted up the intensity to actually play two-way basketball, Joel Embiid was on the floor. Team Steph was even working the offense through him, and after Embiid scored on LeBron James down low, LeBron and Kevin Durant came with a double team the next possession down the court. I can’t imagine a higher sign of respect than that pair deciding they need to come at you with a double team. Embiid dribbled it off his own foot, and although no one else appeared to touch the ball, his team retained possession after a lengthy replay review (much to the consternation of LeBron).

On the defensive end, Team LeBron kept attacking Embiid with isolations, but the big man proved up to the challenge. He forced Kyrie Irving into a tough, contested three-pointer (which rimmed out), and then LeBron hit a deep three-pointer of his own. Then, Embiid’s finest work came matched up against Paul George with just inside of a minute remaining. George was able to beat Embiid off the dribble, but Joel recovered enough to block George’s shot off the backboard to keep the game tied.

Yet, in spite of that play, Team Steph coach Mike D’Antoni (who you may recall was on the Sixers coaching staff for a year, so he should know better), took Embiid out of the game for the next defensive possession. As you might expect, Team LeBron scored easily at the rim, and went on to secure the victory.

Nevertheless, crunch time in the All-Star game serves as an unofficial barometer of who the best ten players in the league are for a given season. Joel Embiid was not only out there, but he was a key figure in the proceedings. Not since Allen Iverson led the East to a massive comeback in the 2001 All-Star game have the Sixers felt this relevant on the national stage. By every indication, the team should remain in the spotlight for years to come.

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