Joel Embiid’s MVP-caliber season could come crashing down tonight if he can’t lead his Philadelphia 76ers to a win over the Miami Heat. If Philly gets sent packing in the semifinals again, this will be the fourth time in five years that’s happened. Two things are clear about Embiid’s situation in Philly:
1.) The narrative on Embiid is changing from him being a great player who’s ascending, to a great player that can’t get it done in big moments.
2.) The guy just can’t seem to catch a break with supposed star teammates who don’t produce and the frequent injuries that cause him to miss significant time each year.
This narrative is the easiest part for Joel to change as he can affect this most by winning. This is Embiid’s sixth NBA season (he missed his first two years with injuries), and he is yet to make it to a conference finals. As the best player in the series against Miami, Embiid and the Sixers were expected by many to handle Miami rather quickly. That hasn’t been the case. Embiid was injured, missed the first two games, then came back for games three and four and played well, and Philly was able to tie the series at two games apiece.
Then Game 5 happened. That was a game where Embiid and Philly could have crushed Miami’s spirits and taken three straight games in the series, plus winning on the Heat’s home court. Instead, the Sixers looked flat as a tire and lost by 35 points. Embiid was the high scorer for Philadelphia with 17 freaking points. I know he’s not 100 percent, but when is Joel Embiid ever fully healthy? And this isn’t the first time Embiid’s had a chance to cement himself among the top superstars and the league, and he’s failed.
In March, the Sixers played a game against the Bucks where Embiid was great against Giannis Antetokounmpo, scoring 29 points, snagging 14 rebounds, and dishing seven assists. Then came winning time. With seconds left in the game, Embiid had the opportunity to send the game to overtime with a dunk but instead chose a layup and got his shot eaten up by Giannis. That game was during the thick of the MVP race, and Embiid could’ve put a stamp on the race.
Two weeks prior, the Sixers played another game where Embiid could have planted his MVP flag against eventual winner Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Joel played well, posting 34 points and nine rebounds, but Denver won a close game, 114-110. Embiid talks about the odds being against him to win MVP the past couple of years, but when he has the opportunity to show voters, he doesn’t capitalize. Two significant victories over the last month of the season against the two players Embiid was battling for MVP would’ve gone a long way for his MVP case.
Its But Embiid still hasn’t won MVP, and he’s on the brink of elimination in the second round. Although Jokic has won consecutive MVP awards, there is still a group of folks who consider Embiid the best center in the game. Jokic has a conference finals appearance on his resume. I don’t care if it happened in the Orlando bubble. Embiid and his Sixers were bounced in the first round in that same bubble. And we know what Giannis has done to change his narrative over the last two years. He took his team to the Finals and won.
So, it can be done. Joel can completely flip the narrative, and it starts with staying alive against the Heat and pushing the series to Game 7. Game 7s are where stars shine brightest. If Embiid truly longs for superstar status, then he’s got to make it to the conference finals. Pretty soon, the excuses and blame-shifting won’t cut it. And there’s been plenty of that for and by Embiid.
For years the excuse was trusting “The Process,” which Sam Hinkie took the blame (rightfully so) for even after he was gone. The team was young and at least making the playoffs, so Embiid got a pass. Then it was Ben Simmons and whether he was ever going to live up to his potential.
After Game 7 against Atlanta last postseason, Embiid pointed the finger at Simmons. But that series shouldn’t have come down to that situation in Game 7 anyway. Once again, Embiid was let off the hook and allowed to blame someone else.
If the 76ers lose to the Heat, it’ll be James Harden’s fault this time, right? Harden is a shell of his former self and could never be trusted in the postseason anyway. Or maybe he’ll turn on Doc Rivers and toss his coach under the bus should they be eliminated by Miami.
No more excuses.
It’s time for Embiid to throw this team on his back and carry them like the superstar he aspires to be. Harden sure as hell ain’t gonna do it, and Rivers can only do so much from the sideline. Joel’s superstar status is on the line in these playoffs. It’s up to Embiid to figure out how this narrative plays out.