ASG vote not surprising to Embiid, who shows he can ‘do everything' in clutch


Joel Embiid again adopted a heel’s tone Saturday night.

After posting 47 points and 18 rebounds in the Sixers’ win at Wells Fargo Center over Nikola Jokic and the Western Conference-leading Nuggets, Embiid addressed the fact that he won’t start this year’s All-Star Game like a true professional wrestling fan. 

“I was not surprised,” Embiid said. “I think it’s well-documented that I’m not well-liked, and that’s cool. I don’t know if it’s because I troll a lot or that I’m, I guess, an asshole. But it’s cool. I’ll keep being me, I’ll keep being an asshole, and I’ll keep trolling. If people don’t like it, that’s their problem. 

“But like I said, it all goes back to winning. When you look at how many times he was an All-Star, they’re not going to say, ‘He was a starter this many times.’ Having been a starter the last five years, it is kind of disrespectful. I don’t think anybody has had a better year than me. But … just focus on the right things and everything is going to go well for you.”

Embiid’s self-characterization of being “not well-liked” is clearly false in Philadelphia. The crowd was jubilant after his step-back jumper over Jokic sealed the Sixers’ 20th win in 24 games.

Embiid sure enjoyed it, too.

“I’ve always liked to think that I’m a closer, and I am,” he said. “It’s fun taking the last shots or taking the last-second shots with 4, 3, 2 on the clock. I love it; it’s fun for me. I like that challenge. I like getting into the fourth quarter, getting into those type of possessions where you’ve got to go out and make the plays, whether it’s offensively or defensively. That’s where you find out who’s who — who’s made for those type of moments. 

“For me, I’ve always seen the regular season — no disrespect — as a practice for me to be able to try as many moves as possible, just to see what works so when you get to the playoffs, you’re ready for anything. You’ve seen everything, you’ve used everything, and you know what works and what doesn’t. And you go from there.”

That three-pointer was Embiid’s fourth of the day, meaning he’s just two away from passing former two-man game partner JJ Redick for seventh on the all-time Sixers list. 

Tobias Harris sits in sixth. He hit a clutch one Saturday courtesy of a standout Embiid pass. While the assist itself didn’t require any great technical skill, it was impressive to see Embiid dish to an open teammate in the midst of a dominant individual stretch. Jokic came out well beyond the three-point line on a James Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll, leading to an over-the-shoulder Harden pass that momentarily set Embiid up against 6-foot-4 Jamal Murray at the top of the key. Aaron Gordon figured it was worth helping off of Harris in the corner and paid for that decision. 

“Leaving him where he had to end up at the elbow by himself — the only help was Tobias’ guy in the corner … and the one time they came, Joel made that pass,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “That was huge, because then they wouldn’t come anymore. So just the little things. I think it’ll be a good film session for us to watch and see those.”

Harris, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half, appreciated that Embiid’s attacking approach didn’t equate to selfishness. 

“Everybody on our team, we know it’s about making the right play,” he said. “Those type of passes in the first quarter, second quarter, they’re good and all. But in the fourth quarter, making those type of passes, you trust your teammate to make a shot and you live with the result. 

“But really, that’s all of us. We know we have to make the good-to-great pass to be successful and to be a great team, and I thought Jo did a great job of that in tonight’s game. Our whole group, we fuel off of that. We fuel off of those extra passes because we know it allows every player to really get into their type of rhythm, their type of flow on the floor.”

Of course, those sorts of plays determine games in a way that individual accolades do not.

But, if you ask for Embiid’s thoughts on awards voting, he’ll give you his two cents. And he won’t mind if some view him as villainous. 

“I don’t worry about what you guys or the fans want from me,” he said. “I worry about what my team needs from me. It’s funny, I always hear old guys or you (reporters) talk about, ‘I’ve got to live in the paint,’ that I’ve got to play like (Shaquille O’Neal). That’s just not my game. I can do it, but that’s not what I’m good at. I think I’m a good basketball player because I can do everything on the basketball floor — not just for me, but also for my teammates. 

“Most of the time I get doubled anyway, so someone else is going to get a shot. It’s all about (doing) whatever’s going to help us win. Sometimes it’s living down there. Sometimes it’s also spreading the floor. You’ve got so many guys, sometimes it’s good to give them space and let them do what they do best. … As a team, I think we’re finding the right way to play. Defensively, we’ve still got to be better.”

As of Sunday morning, Embiid's 33.8 points per game lead the NBA and the 32-16 Sixers' seven-game winning streak is the league's longest.

They have five games left before the trade deadline, nine before an All-Star Game that Embiid will not start. 

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