In a COVID-riddled season especially, it’s still too early for definitive NBA Finals ride-or-die predictions that aren’t stupid or clout-chasey. That said, the Philadelphia 76ers proved something last night by taking the team with the NBA’s best record (how much longer will we say this about the Utah Jazz?) into overtime and stripping them down on their home floor, 131-123
The Donovan Mitchell Show last night actually starred Ben Simmons, who played a lead role in Philadelphia holding Utah’s superstar to just 12-of-34 shooting from the floor. Joel Embiid, who has been arguably the most outstanding performer this NBA season, dropped 40 points and 19 rebounds (primarily) on the head of two-time (and won’t be three-time this year) Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. And in overtime, the Sixers not only limited the Jazz to five points in as many minutes but managed to defend universal nice guy Donovan Mitchell well enough for him to lambast the NBA officials and get ejected from the game. (Thanks, Joel.) Mitchell even went as far as to say, “We won this game.”
“I’m never one to blame the refs or blame the officials,” Mitchell said following the loss. “But this is getting out of hand. There have been games like this that we won, there have been games like this that we lost, but this whole refereeing stuff … we’re nice, we don’t complain, we don’t get frustrated, we fight through things.
“The fact that we just continually get screwed in a way by this. We won this game, in my personal opinion,” he continued. “It’s a consistent thing.”
The Sixers’ greatness last night doesn’t rise to a level that’ll determine anything long-term, especially in this particular season (and with half of it left). But, if nothing else, it was highly entertaining theater. Dwight Howard even hit a three-pointer. (Looked good, too.)
The underlying takeaway is that Embiid’s MVP case is growing closer to undeniable. Due to his fifth game of 40 or more points this season, the Sixer center is now at over 30 points per game. If his tally holds, he’ll be the first center since Moses Malone (1981-82) to average at least 30 points per game and the first true big man since Karl Malone (1989-90) to accomplish the feat. Simmons also strengthens an already strong case for Defensive Player of the Year and would be the first guard (technically) to win the award since Gary Payton in 1995-96. Simmons’ 2.1 defensive box plus-minus leads all starting NBA guards this season, and he’s had a number of signature moments, which will only serve in his favor.