Joel Embiid just submitted the best game of his young NBA career. The big man dominated both ends of the floor and made continuous high-effort plays to ensure the Sixers snapped a three game losing streak. An undermanned Sixers squad rallied around his brilliance and ultimately defeated the Miami Heat in a 137-134 overtime thriller. It is extremely encouraging to see this team overcome adversity and get back on track after a recent string of losses.
The Sixers began this season in red-hot fashion, achieving victories in seven of their first eight games. However, a flurry of absences due to multiple players being in COVID-19 related health and safety protocols have forced the team to play the last several contests undermanned. Consequently, the Sixers dropped three games in a row to the Nets, Nuggets, and Hawks, allowing at least 112 points to each opponent.
While vital contributors such as Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Shake Milton remained out, the Sixers were able to trot out Ben Simmons, who had missed the last two games. He provided important help on the defensive end (2 steals) and his passing prowess was on full display (12 assists). Unfortunately, he still hasn’t found his offensive touch this season (just 5 total points) and fouled out of the contest before regulation expired.
Simmons’ subpar season thus far has meant that the Sixers require MVP caliber play from Joel Embiid on a night to night basis. As lofty as those expectations are, so far he’s delivered. His performance last night was just the cherry on top of the incredible season he’s put together. Against the Heat, Embiid scored 45 points (16-23 fg), grabbed 16 rebounds, had 5 steals, and even dished out 4 assists. Missing just 7 of 23 shots is mighty impressive but Embiid even outdid himself there by hitting a perfect mark from the free throw line (11-11). Most impressive was his clutch ability in this game as both teams knew Embiid was the Sixers only reliable offensive option down the stretch. He made the right passes out of double teams, didn’t shy away from contact while getting to the rim, and hit outside shots in rhythm when he was open.
A knock against Embiid has always been that his conditioning is poor and he has a tendency to falter down the stretch in games where his usage is high. Yet, Embiid played a full 39 minutes in this contest and managed to look sprightly towards the end. A play that won’t get enough attention is Embiid’s full body lay-out to tip an offensive rebound to Danny Green, who subsequently scored on the possession. If Embiid is motivated to make these plays, the sky’s the limit.
Also of note is rookie guard Tyrese Maxey, who has seen increased minutes as a result of other Sixers’ players being unavailable. He looks comfortable out there and plays with a necessary fearless edge. Maxey had 8 assists before fouling out of this most recent game, but his real moment to shine came during the Sixers recent loss to the Denver Nuggets. There, Maxey dropped 39 points to go along with 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The Sixers will play the Miami Heat for a second time before preparing for a weekend back-to-back consisting of matchups with the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder. It is quite likely that when the Sixers match up with the Boston Celtics next week, it will be a battle between the #1 and #2 seeds in the East.