Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid knew the cameras were watching his every move on Tuesday night in a rivalry game. Everyone knew, really. It was an old-school Eastern Conference showdown: Sixers vs. Celtics, live in primetime on TNT.
The 7-footer didn’t do much showboating, but there was a little extra hitch in his hang time as he slammed the ball through the hoop with 1:22 showing in the fourth quarter. That dunk was his 50th point in a masterful performance that (hopefully) closed the door on the MVP race. He single-handedly guided the Sixers to a 103-101 victory, adding 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks. More impressively, he went 20-of-25 from the field.
Embiid has repeatedly said he doesn’t care about winning MVP. But, on the same night that his main rival (Nikola Jokic) for the award turned the ball over 8 times and lost to the second-worst team (Houston Rockets) in the league, the debate appears to be over.
“There were so many things that we did wrong, but what we did right was Joel Embiid. And the MVP race is over,” Doc Rivers told reporters. “Tonight, we couldn’t make shots. He managed to score half our points in an NBA game, umm, and I’m biased, but the MVP race is over.”
The Sixers shot 39-of-78 from the field against the Celtics. Guys not named Embiid went 19-of-53. It was like watching the Titanic sink every time one of their shooters got an open look, save for 3 timely corner triples from P.J. Tucker down the stretch. He had 11 points, along with 20 points for James Harden.
Where does Embiid’s 52-point gem rank in the pantheon of great games? Well, Rivers put it at the top due to the timing of his shots. The Sixers actually fell behind in the fourth quarter, rallying back from a 5-point deficit and a 4-point deficit, before finally slamming the door shut. Embiid kept bailing them out with soft jumpers from just inside the nail, like Superman saving falling children at Niagara Falls.
“I mean, he had to make tough shots,” Rivers said. “We just couldn’t get anything going and that’s something we have to correct.”
Joel Embiid (Kind Of) Declares Himself League MVP
Embiid didn’t reel off stats to prove why he deserved MVP on Tuesday night. Maybe he scanned the box scores to see what Jokic did. Or maybe he didn’t. Who cares. What he did do was carry the Sixers on his shoulders for four testy quarters, then let his savvy coach do the talking for him.
Alperen Sengun vs Nikola Jokic tonight:— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) April 5, 2023
20 PTS – 10 REB – 7 AST – 50% FG
14 PTS – 10 REB – 8 TOV – -21
Rockets win by 21 🤯 pic.twitter.com/ZDtKUteeP9
When asked if agreed with Rivers’ assessment of the MVP race being over, Embiid smiled big for the cameras and chuckled out loud.
“I mean, I don’t know. They’re probably right,” Embiid said, pausing to let the assembled media laugh, then continued: “Like I said, they’re probably right but we got bigger goals in mind. You know, we understand we got a chance but it’s not gonna be easy. Tonight, for me, was kind of disappointing because we found so many ways to lose the game and that’s on all of us.”
It marked Joel Embiid’s third 50-point game of the 2022-23 season after dropping 53 on Charlotte (12/11) and 59 on Utah (11/13). The latter was when he flirted with what could have been the first quadruple-double in NBA history: 59 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, and 7 blocks. For Embiid, that one remains the pinnacle.
“Best one was probably the Utah game, no question about it,” Joel Embiid said. “Given the team that we played and getting the win [tonight vs. Boston], this would probably be up there. I mean, in any big scoring game, it feels better when you get the win. If that would have happened tonight and we would have lost, it wouldn’t have mattered.”
Embiid tonight:— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 5, 2023
First player to reach those numbers in a game since MJ in 1992. pic.twitter.com/JfZDEIjYCR
What are the odds of Joel Embiid winning MVP?