Embiid's 40-point Game 2 reminded Rivers of Olajuwon 26 years ago


Joel Embiid on Tuesday night posted 40 points and 13 rebounds on a small right lateral meniscus tear, setting a new playoff career high in scoring and leading the Sixers to a series-evening Game 2 win over the Hawks.

The performance was unique, full of the nifty post moves, soft jumpers, drawn fouls and resolve that Embiid has shown all season. 

The circumstances weren’t unprecedented, though. The NBA released the voting for its MVP award shortly before tip-off and Embiid finished a distant second to Nikola Jokic, receiving just one first-place vote. It reminded Sixers head coach Doc Rivers of a game he’d played in 26 years ago.  

“It was awesome,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if the MVP thing did anything to him or not. I remember being on the other side of the night that David Robinson got the MVP and we had to play Olajuwon when I was on that Spurs team. That didn’t go well for us. Tonight, you felt like that was Joel. He was that magnificent, dominant for us early on. But it was absolutely a team effort. I just thought he set the tone for us. And that’s what he has to do, obviously.”

Olajuwon, who was fifth in MVP voting that season, beat Rivers’ Spurs with 41 points and 16 rebounds in Game 2 of the 1995 Western Conference Finals after watching Robinson lift his trophy. He was named Finals MVP a few weeks later following the Rockets' sweep of Shaquille O'Neal and the Magic. 

Embiid sometimes has a way of understating things to make a point. He did that Tuesday in speaking about the MVP results, casually prodding reporters to remember he had a colossal impact for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed. 

“There’s only some things I can control,” he said. “Obviously as a team we had a good year, and I was a part of it.

“It’s disappointing, because as a player you work hard for moments like this. But then again, it’s out of my control. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve just got to come out every year and just be ready and do my job. But I’m focused on the playoffs, focused on winning the championship. Like I’ve been saying all season, we’ve got a good chance. I’m not worried about those awards and stuff. If and when I’m holding that (championship) trophy, anything else won’t matter.”

Though Atlanta’s Clint Capela is a very good defender, Embiid frequently comes across as unstoppable against single coverage. Foul trouble, his knee, or some factor besides the opposition appeared to be the factors most likely to limit him Tuesday. 

Through two games on his torn meniscus, Embiid has averaged 39.5 points and shot 54.3 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from three-point range and 83.9 percent from the foul line. Jokic was the clear MVP in the voters’ eyes, but Embiid has undoubtedly played like one this series.

He appreciated the continued “MVP” chants Tuesday night but doesn’t mind taking his show on the road for Game 3 on Friday in Atlanta.  

“Playing at home is huge, because we don’t seem to lose here,” Embiid said. “It’s rare. The fans, they support us. They’re going to boo you, but it’s to make you play better. I like that energy. Also, playing on the road is the same for me, honestly. As I play on the road, you’ve got the opposition fans talking trash, booing. I feed off of it and I like to shut them up. For me, there’s no difference. 

“Obviously I have a lot of love for the Philly fans. Playing at home, there’s nothing like it — the way they get loud, the love that they show. And one thing that people have no idea about that I’m proud of is the knowledge of the game. They know everything that’s going on, whether it’s who’s on the team, who the team just signed and all that stuff. They just have great awareness. That’s what I want. I want to play in a city where fans are into it. They care about you. They want to win, and that’s Philly for you.”

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