Sun, Dec 15, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid had the worst game of his career this week when he went scoreless in nearly 32 minutes of action against the Raptors in Toronto. Over the course of the contest he was 0-for-11 from the floor and 0-for-3 from the free-throw line, and had more turnovers (4) and fouls (5) than assists (2). Unsurprisingly, the Sixers lost the game by five, as it’s tough for them to pull out a win if their big man is a net negative. Embiid knew the performance was unacceptable, and he said as much afterwards. 

“I cant have that type of production,” he said. “I never thought I’d be talking about zero points in an NBA game, but it is what it is. Some nights you make shots, some nights you don’t.”  

The performance clearly didn’t sit well with Embiid, as he has been on a mission ever since. On his first touch of Philadelphia’s next game, Embiid went right to the rim and threw down a strong dunk over his former Sixers teammate, Richaun Holmes, as if to send the following message to the Philadelphia faithful: “I know that my scoreless performance was unacceptable, and it won’t happen again.” 

In the three games since he was held scoreless, Embiid has posted the following lines: 

Against Sacramento (11/27): 33 points, 16 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist 

Against New York (11/29): 27 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists 

Against Indiana (11/30): 32 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block 

As impressive as those numbers are, they’re only part of the picture. The real story is in Embiid’s increased aggression. After taking just three free throws against Toronto, Embiid has clearly made a point of drawing fouls and getting to the charity stripe. Against the Kings, Embiid shot 14 free throws and made 12 of them. Against the Knicks he was 13-of-15 from the line, and against the Pacers on Saturday night he connected on all 15 of his attempts. 

Considering Embiid’s production, it’s no surprise that the Sixers won all three of those games. That’s usually the case for Philly; when Embiid is aggressive and on top of his game the Sixers are really tough to topple. After their win over the Pacers, Embiid revealed that he has made adjustments since his poor performance in Toronto. 

“Since the Toronto game, I changed my mind-set on the season,” Embiid said. “The games prior to that, I had not been as aggressive as I was last year, shooting 10 free throws per game. The last couple of games, I have been more physical and I’ve created more contact, causing whoever is guarding me to react to it.” 

Embiid’s increased focus on physicality hasn’t been lost on his head coach. 

“It’s a mentality,” Brett Brown said on Saturday night.  “That is a disposition and a mentality, and it is more than a stat… Nobody can underestimate the hurt that he felt after the Toronto game where he felt like he let us down. We have seen him respond.” 

The fact that Embiid was able to use the adversity that he faced in Toronto as a learning experience and bounce back is a solid sign for the Sixers, as they’re a much better team when he’s aggressive and actively seeking out contact and trips to the foul line. He can be one of the most physically overwhelming players in the NBA when it puts his mind to it, and it seems like his forgettable night in Toronto has served to remind Embiid just how downright dominant he can be. 

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