Joel Embiid‘s overall stats from Christmas Day show why he gets some mention in the early MVP discussion — 34 points on 17 shot attempts, plus 16 rebounds.
But 30 of those points and 13 of those shot attempts came in the first three quarters of the game. In the fourth Embiid was 1-of-4 shooting — he got fewer shot attempts than Wilson Chandler or J.J. Redick (both had six, and Redick missed every one of those). It’s been a knock on coach Brett Brown from his critics — and there are a surprisingly large number of them in the Philly fan base — for a long time, that the team gets away from Embiid and its strengths in the clutch.
Embiid felt that way after the loss. From Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
“I felt I could’ve done more. The ball didn’t find me in the fourth and in overtime. In those situations, I gotta show up and then also, I gotta be put in the right situations to be able to help the team. I feel like I wasn’t in the right situations. I felt like I could’ve done more. We lost. I put this heavily on me because I know I could’ve done more. The way I was playing, I don’t think they could guard me. They were double-teaming on the first dribbles, but I gotta find a way to adjust with that and just be myself.”
That’s Embiid wanting a more prominent role, to have it be his team. You have to admire that.
But it’s not as simple as “get Embiid the ball more.” Embiid doesn’t really create his own shot (traditional big men rarely do) and that is the challenge for the Sixers.
If you watched the game, you saw the Celtics go to hard doubles on Embiid in the fourth to take the ball out of his hands — then it’s on Embiid teammates to make them pay for it. The Sixers didn’t. Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, and Ben Simmons shot a combined 2-of-15 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
This is what playoff basketball is like — teams have time to scheme, to change defenses to take away what their opponent does best, and everyone else has to adjust and step up. Boston’s Brad Stevens did what smart coaches do — take the ball out of the hands of the guy who had 30 points in three quarters and make someone else beat them. Is it Brown’s fault nobody can hit a shot? Or that this team lacks depth?
Maybe the final shot should have been a Jimmy Butler isolation (that has worked for the Sixers before), but Redick got a look from a place on the floor he is shooing 53.8 percent this season, and he’s shooting 57 percent on pull up twos. The cliche is a cliche for a reason — it’s a make or miss league. If Redick had knocked down a shot he hits more than half the time, Brown would get praise for getting his best shooter a good look. Redick missed and Brown gets ripped. People want results, process be damned.
Brown needs to find a way to get Embiid more engaged, particularly late in games. Run some stuff for him that gets him the ball on the move (it can’t be postups or the double teams will come fast). That said, opponents will continue to not let Embiid beat them and dare anyone else to do it, and against the Celtics nobody else did.