PHILADELPHIA — The 76ers weren’t exactly putting on a clinic against their undermanned opponent.
Philadelphia’s Shake Milton was driving into the teeth of Golden State’s defense on Friday night when he lost control of his dribble. In the following mad scramble, his teammate De’Anthony Melton collected the loose ball and in some way situated the rim above him. But when Melton’s layup attempt was swatted away by Golden State’s Kevon Looney, another person swooped in for a cameo.
It’s unattainable to miss the 76ers’ Joel Embiid, who continues to stuff box scores with numbers that resemble lottery tickets. He has seldom been more fearsome or more practical. So nobody was surprised that, after Looney blocked Melton’s shot, Embiid was in a position to reach excessive of a crowd to grab (one other) offensive rebound and draw (one other) foul to earn two (more) free throws.
Of their 118-106 win, the 76ers were uneven but just adequate — and that matters to them a fantastic deal lately. After a dismal begin to the season, and despite one other recent rash of injuries, they’ve won 4 straight. James Harden is directing the offense with more pace. The team’s reserves are producing. And Embiid is busting through defenders like a snowplow.
“I feel the important thing is that everyone has bought in,” Embiid said after he finished with 34 points and 13 rebounds to assist the 76ers improve to a 16-12 record. “Everybody knows the right way to play. Everybody knows where the ball has to go. The ball shouldn’t be sticking. Everybody is doing their job.”
Yes, the 76ers are playing some tantalizing basketball. The query, in fact, is whether or not this team — so often within the discussion as a contender in recent seasons — can sustain its strong play. Embiid, a five-time All-Star, has never caught a whiff of the conference finals. (He can thank Kawhi Leonard and his theatrics in 2019 for one such missed opportunity.) Now, there’s a way of urgency.
“I feel our guys are finally seeing that that is who we’re, that is how we’ve got to play,” 76ers Coach Doc Rivers said. “They’re starting to visualise what we’re. And that’s a great thing.”
Rivers wants his team to defend — what coach doesn’t? — but he also has implored them to play with greater tempo, to get out and rating in transition, and there’s an ongoing experiment at the middle of all of it. Because the 76ers traded for Harden in February, he and Embiid have played together in only 32 regular-season games, including 11 games this season.
“It’s not lots,” said Harden, who had 27 points and 9 assists against Golden State. “So each game, we’re figuring one another out: me getting it going or him getting it going, our pick-and-roll, how teams are guarding us. It’s a game-by-game scenario. So we just keep constructing on that. It’s actually fun.”
It have to be easy to have a good time twiddling with Embiid lately. Along with averaging a league-leading 33.3 points a game heading into the weekend, Embiid is shooting a career-best 53.5 percent from the sphere.
Steve Kerr, Golden State’s coach, said that Embiid reminded him of among the great centers he faced as a player within the late ’80s and thru the ’90s. The sport was different back then, with less emphasis on the 3-point shot and a greater give attention to big men who could dominate down low.
Physically, Embiid is a throwback to those centers of a bygone era. At seven feet tall and 280 kilos, he can impose his will against just about anyone near the basket.
“But what makes him unique is he can put the ball on the ground and knock down jumpers, hit 3s — he’s such a talented guy,” Kerr said. “You could have to are available with a plan and a backup plan and check out loads of various things, because otherwise he’ll just dominate the sport. And he might try this anyway.”
Facing him on Friday, Kerr had backup plans for his backup plans, but Embiid fed all of them through a paper shredder.
There he was in the primary quarter, sinking a 14-foot jumper excessive of Looney and using his dribble to get past Jonathan Kuminga for a layup. There he was within the second quarter, grabbing one other offensive rebound before going straight back up against James Wiseman to create contact and draw a foul. There he was at the beginning of the third quarter, igniting the 76ers with an 18-foot jumper and a 3-pointer.
And there he was within the closing minutes, sealing the win with an alley-oop dunk.
It’s a credit to Embiid, who led the league in scoring last season, that he has still identified ways to enhance. This season, for instance, he has carved out the elbows — the dual spots on the court where the free-throw line and the corners of the lane meet — as his personal canvas. From there, he can shoot over smaller defenders or use his strength and quickness to drive past them.
“And the second part is his passing,” Rivers said. “His passing has gone from a 4 to a nine in that area.”
The Golden State team that took the court in Philadelphia was absent several injured stars, including Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Stephen Curry, who hurt his left shoulder in a loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday and will miss several weeks.
Nonetheless, the 76ers had their very own issues. Two of their starters, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, were sidelined with injuries. But they weren’t about to make excuses. Embiid made sure of it.