May 09, 2022
This past week was the tale of two teams for the Sixers.
It was the worst of times when they went down to Miami sans their 7-foot Cameroonian center and dropped the two opening games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Heat. It was the best of times when they returned to Philly and pulled off two convincing wins with their MVP-level big man once again manning the paint.
Joel Embiid might not be bringing home the regular season MVP award, but he can reach loftier goals, such as winning Finals MVP and parading down Broad Street like a Philadelphia basketball messiah.
As for who won the week in Philly sports, it was once again an easy decision this Monday: the Sixers will go as far as Embiid will take them, and if he's playing this way, it might be further than any Sixers team has gone in over two decades.
As a reminder...
Every Monday going forward, I'll pick a Philly sports figure who "won" the previous week. What's the credential for winning? Well, it's ultra-subjective...
My qualifications for Embiid are as follows:
What worked so well for the Heat in the first two games of this series was Bam Adebayo's defense. Given his versatility, Adebayo is one of the best defensive players in the league and I believe he has a legitimate case for Defensive Player of the Year this season. With an Embiid-sized hole in the Sixers' lineup in Games 1 and 2, Adebayo could do whatever he wanted defensively, rotating between the paint and perimeter, playing zone or playing man and being the key cog in the Heat's successful machine.
When a guy like Embiid, a bruising big man who coulda/woulda/shoulda won MVP, returns to the floor, everything changes for the opponents. That's even more true for Adebayo. Embiid occupied the Miami All-Star center's attention for the entirety of Games 3 and 4. His reactionary and help defense was minimized given the demands it takes to even attempt to guard Embiid. It's no surprise that the Sixers' perimeter attack was infinitely better in Games 3 and 4 because of that.
A three-time All-Defensive Team selection, Embiid's defense has sort of become underrated in a way over the last year or two because of his otherworldly offensive production. Sure, he takes some possessions off from time to time in the regular season, but when it counts, Embiid's just as good as he's been since he first suited up for the Sixers. Akin to the way him simply playing changes an opponent's defensive approach, the same happens on the other end of the court.
With Embiid out there, there's no longer a decrepit DeAndre Jordan nor an overeager Paul Reed protecting the rim. Embiid shifts the gravity of opposing offenses, deterring them from the paint simply by standing down there:
Embiid doesn't do too much on defense here, but still shuts down the possession.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) May 9, 2022
Steps up on Strus off the DHO, then stops Tucker's roll. Heat reset to Butler, so Embiid helps cut off the baseline for a drive then closes out on PJ. Having Joel's energy and mobility back is huge. pic.twitter.com/fyJZDMWs5g
The way he sees it, that fact and Philadelphia's change in fortune isn't hard to figure, and he laughed at a question pondering what allowed them to have confidence as a group down 2-0. All he had to do was look to the giant Cameroonian sitting to his right."That was the key, he's the MVP of the league," Harden said. "Credit to our guys, we had the right mindset going into both games, it's just difficult without Jo to win if you don't make shots...we still had that confidence gong into Game 3 knowing we could beat these guys, and obviously bringing Joel back was the X-factor."
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