Before we even talk about the joy Embiid’s play has brought the city of Philadelphia, it’s important to remember many things are bigger than sports, and Embiid is proving once again to be an MVP off the court as well as on it.
Joel Embiid is officially the favorite for the NBA MVP award at the halfway point of the 2020-2021 NBA season. The national media is saying it, oddsmakers are saying it, and Embiid’s play is saying it. We have long believed the potential was there. There have been so many flashes of it in his young career, whether it be putting Russell Westbrook, Aron Baynes, and John Collins on posters, elite rim protection, or his…incredible dance moves?
With Embiid set to make his fourth All-Star appearance on Sunday, it felt appropriate to take the time to look back at his greatest games so far, as with the way he’s playing, he’s likely to rewrite the list by the end of the season. I worked on a list myself first, then sought out some of the best basketball minds I know to get more insight, and this is what i’ve come up with.
(In no particular order)
- 2020 All Star Game: Team LeBron defeats Team Giannis 157-155: Embiid has a windmill dunk on an absurd behind the back pass from Damian Lillard between Lebron’s legs, then later Joel hits LeBron with a “Dream Shake”. I know it’s the All-Star Game, but seeing Joel out there dominating, having fun, and being a go-to-guy down the stretch among the best players in the league felt so vindicating. I was watching this game at the Mike Scott Hive (what up Hive!?) bowling event and there was such a euphoric feeling as Embiid became the focal point of Team Giannis as the game tightened up late.
- He doesn’t miss!: 45 in OT vs Miami when the Sixers only had eight players. Embiid went 13/13 from the FT line while adding 16 rebounds as the Sixers won 137-134. While Joel carried the shorthanded Sixers, this game couldn’t make the top five with Butler, Bam, and Dragic all out for Miami.
- Overcoming 52 from the MVP: It’s hard to imagine winning a game where Giannis puts up 52, while going 19/21 from the line (90.5%) and shoots 37.5% from three, but Joel Embiid was determined. He got help from then running mates Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, but Embiid’s 40/15/6 with three steals and a block truly led the way.
Number Five – Welcome to the League
Joel Embiid officially put the NBA on notice that he was going to be a problem on November 15th 2017 in Los Angeles. After an impressive but sporadic rookie season that was cut short due to injury, Embiid showed much more consistency early in his sophomore campaign. However, he had not gained true national attention until he embarrassed Brook Lopez and willed the Sixers to a win over the Lakers. Embiid’s career high to this point was 33 against a miserable Brooklyn Nets team that would finish last in the East the year he accomplished it. Against the Lakers, Embiid not only put up 46/15/7, he had 7 blocks and was an absolute force down the stretch, scoring 19 of the Sixers 32 in the fourth to pull off the come from behind win. Still one of Embiid’s best career passing games, and one of the first of many Eurostep highlights to come.
Number Four – The Plane is Landing
You can’t convince me you didn’t think the Sixers were going to The Finals after Game 3 against Toronto in 2019. The Sixers smacked the Raptors 116-95 as Embiid put up 33/10 with five blocks, including one on Kawhi and several on NBA Twitter darling Pascal Siakam. Embiid went three of four from deep and had the infamous windmill dunk after pump faking Marc Gasol back to Spain. We don’t need to talk about what happened after this game…
Number Three – Hanging Pelts on His Wall
I generally hate these scripted debate shows, and the national media in general, but Max Kellerman comparing Embiid to Predator is an all-time classic in my mind. Embiid put up 40/19 against the multiple time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, and hits a broken play three pointer to tie the game with six seconds left. The icing on the cake? The 2017-18 runner up for Rookie of the Year Donovan Mitchell choked down the stretch while getting himself ejected. Embiid scored 14 in the fourth and Tobias Harris closed out the overtime period to win a huge statement game and put an exclamation point on the first half of the 2020-2021 season. Sixers defeat Utah 131-123 in overtime.
Number Two – A South Philly Christmas
The NBA on Christmas Day has become one of the best days of the year, and Joel was the Grinch putting coal in Giannis’ stocking as he dominated him at both ends of the floor. The Sixers routed the Bucks on Christmas behind 31/11 from Joel, including 14 in the first quarter. Embiid proved not only did Milwaukee not have an answer for him, but that he was one of the few able to be an answer for the now two time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. At the time, Milwaukee was 27-4 with the league’s best defense, and the Sixers handed them their worst loss of the season to that point.
Number One – Bullying the Bulls
While the other four games have a lot more context and memorable moments, at some point numbers simply tell the story. Having to carry the load with Ben Simmons out, Embiid dropped 50 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks in a game the Sixers bench continued to try to give away. We see Embiid fight several double teams, run the court and finish with a Eurostep, and dominate with the mid-range as he has done all season. There are only 29 games in the NBA since 1983-1984 (as far back as the stat goes) that Basketball Reference generated a “Game Score” of 50+, and this performance ranks 28th with a 50.8. By no means is this the end all be all of stats, but whatever way you slice this one up, Embiid had a performance for the ages, yet still only seems like a sign of things to come.
So let me know what I missed, what you’d put in your top five, or just share any other fun Embiid moments/highlights/games. You can find me on Twitter @DanSaysThat. We should be taking the time to truly appreciate what we have in Joel Embiid, and here’s to a heck of a finish to the 2020-2021 season.