At this point, it seems like just about every Sixers game follows the same storyline. Get down early, get down big in the second half, have an amazing 4th quarter comeback, and win the game in the final two minutes. Last night’s 120-119 win over the Trailblazers followed that same script. Down 21 in the 3rd quarter to an Embiid game-winner, this team is different.
MVP Statement From Joel
There are few moments throughout a season where a player makes an MVP Statement. Embiid had one of those moments last night. While he has had many MVP moments throughout his career, and no MVP awards, last night just seemed a little different. One of the biggest question marks with the Sixers has been, in the final few seconds of the game, who takes that last shot? Everyone’s first response is always instinctively Joel. But, whenever he had the opportunity he would end up getting doubled and it never really worked out. This year has been different though, including last night. Embiid has been one of the best players in the clutch this season, including two game-winning shots in the last 2 minutes of games just this week. He is also doing it on both ends of the floor.
Embiid was special again in last night’s win. He finished with 39 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. This game is just another in an insane stretch that Embiid is on right now. He and Harden have seen to get their chemistry together in the two-man game. They both have such a great feel for how to create mismatches on the floor, and they have been able to exploit them. Time will only tell if they will be able to carry it into the postseason, but if they can, we may be in for a fun spring.
Harden and a Balanced Attack
When the Sixers traded for James Harden they were hoping they were getting a great playmaker who can also be a dominating scorer to take the load off of Joel’s shoulders. Harden has been just that this season. Last night he finished with 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. One of the best things about Harden has been his ability to score in the 4th quarter, and he showed that again last night. He was able to hit a signature step-back three-pointer to bring the Sixers within two with just over 3 minutes left in the game. It will of course all come down to the playoffs, but this version of James Harden is the best teammate Embiid has ever had.
One of the themes this season has been that the supporting cast has been lackluster. While no one supporting player shined last night, many made a positive impact. Maxey and Melton both scored 13 points while Niang chipped in 12. Niang has done a great job of late as he is shooting 41.1% from three. Come playoff time it will most likely be those players along with Paul Reed that get the sparse minutes.
Credit to Doc
Doc Rivers has taken a lot of heat as the Sixers’ head coach, and rightfully so, but I think it’s time we finally give him some credit. Joel Embiid has played the best basketball of his career under Doc, and James Harden has transformed his game into being a great playmaker. We can not just bring all the blame to a coach when they lose, and not give him any credit when they win.
Last night’s win showed a perfect example of why Doc deserves more credit than he is getting. P.J. Tucker and Tobias Harris were giving the Sixers absolutely nothing all game long, and instead of going back to them in crunch time, he stuck with Melton and Niang. When asked about the switch postgame by Adam Aaronson of The Rights to Ricky Sanchez Podcast, Rivers said “They were making shots and they were making the right defensive plays… that’s what you do in games. You adjust and you go with it.” Rivers has been criticized for lack of adjustments in past seasons, but this year he has not been afraid to leave the hot hands out on the floor.
Another interesting point that was made by Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94.1 WIP is that the Sixers play very hard for Doc. In the past, the Sixers were the ones who would blow 20-plus point leads. But this season they are the ones making the comebacks. They seem to never be out of a game, and you have to give the coach some credit for that.