Joel Embiid didn’t put up the hugest numbers in Thursday night’s Game 6, but if anything his pedestrian production underscores just how dominant Embiid can be when he’s not pooping out and coughing up various vital internal organs. Thursday night he was feeling good, and as a consequence the 76ers beat the living hell out of the visiting Raptors, by the misleading score of 112–101, to extend the series and force a Game 7.
Embiid’s line—an unspectacular 17 points and 12 rebounds on ugly 36 percent shooting—falls well short of describing how much he affected the action at both ends. The Sixers outscored the Raptors by a whopping 40 points during Embiid’s 35-plus minutes, in a game they won by just 11 (for comparison’s sake, the 76ers were outscored by a point during J.J. Redick’s 30 minutes of run). Just by having the energy and electrolytes to rumble up and down the court with any urgency, Embiid changes the shape of an NBA game. In contrast with Tuesday night’s stinker—when six of Embiid’s 10 shots came from beyond the arc, and he took just two free throws, and grabbed exactly zero offensive rebounds—Embiid was far more aggressive about forcing his way into the paint and battling on the low block, pressing his enormous physical advantages over Toronto’s shaky big men. That’s a lot easier commitment to make when you’re neither quaking with gut pain nor woozy with a head cold.
But Embiid’s biggest and most impressive contributions, of course, came on the defensive end, where when he is healthy he is one of the very best players in basketball. Tuesday night he was getting dunked on by Kawhi Leonard; Thursday night he was doing this:
And just a few seconds later, to fully make the point, Embiid was doing this:
Embiid had help from Jim Butts and Tobias Harris and—finally—Ben Simmons, but it really is something how much he can influence a game at both ends just by being upright and fully engaged. Embiid hasn’t been able to string together consecutive star-like performances in this series, but with Game 7 coming up Sunday in Toronto, now is the time. The long break means plenty of time for rest and recovery, but it also means plenty of time for Embiid to pick up some weird alien spore or lose several fingers. Just to be safe, the Sixers should lock him away in quarantine between now and then.