April 17, 2023
The Sixers moved to 2-0 in their series against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night, riding Joel Embiid in the middle of the floor and Tyrese Maxey on the outside to a double-digit win. They look to be in total control of this series, and while the Nets have made them sweat at times, it looks like a matchup that should probably end on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn.
Embiid was the center of the story for many reasons on Monday night, but this one is all about his troll side coming out.
• The theme of Philadelphia's postgame presser was trust, having watched their franchise center invite double team after double team in an effort to hunt the best shots possible for the team. It was Embiid who made that happen, and we'll get to that subject eventually.
Embiid, in the middle of serious answers about serious basketball things, decided he was going to take a blowtorch to the Nets and the world over the course of his presser. We're going to highlight a few of those quips tonight and leave the serious analysis for tomorrow.
• Question: Did you think the physical nature of the first half, with the way it was officiated, can be good for you guys and do what you did in the second half?
"I saw, after the game last time, they kind of took the Nick Nurse route of begging for free throws and calling out the referees, and they did come out and they got a lot of calls, which I guess is good for them," Embiid said. "But you know, I think we didn't play our best basketball. But what happened in the second half was we just figured out what worked, and we just kept doing it over and over and over. They stuck to the gameplan, they didn't make any adjustments, and we just figured out and just kept playing together."
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn made his appeal to the officials following the Game 1 defeat in Philadelphia, noting that he was hoping for more travels and three-second violations called. While the game didn't favor the Sixers as far as the officiating went, it does not seem Vaughn stumped hard enough to swing the series.
• Joel Embiid managed to edge his way into the Defensive Player of the Year voting in a small way, picking up a single first-place vote and a pair of third-place votes in the race for top defensive honors:
Full breakdown of DPOY voting: https://t.co/evATs8obPw pic.twitter.com/PF1UvNJ0NI— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) April 17, 2023
Monday's game showed the price of challenging all-comers at the rim, with Brooklyn's Cam Johnson throwing down a nasty dunk in Embiid's grill late in the first half. In typical Embiid fashion, he joked in a monotone that he was not aware of the play being discussed when asked if that moment changed his approach to defending.
"I don't know, I don't remember being dunked on," Embiid said. "It's the playoffs, that's usually where I take my defense to another level. I thought tonight as a team we were really good, and then myself, I felt like, like I said it's the playoffs. It's been like that over my career every single time. We can talk about, it's hard to play 100 percent of the time in the regular season with that many games, but it's the playoffs. Every possession matters."
A fairly tame assessment of things, right up until...
• "I had what," Embiid asked, "Three blocks? Only three blocks? I probably need the Memphis scorekeeper. What was it Denver, Memphis? Whatever. I thought I had more. But that's the level I got to get to, and I'm going to do it every game."
(For those not in the loop – there was a brief controversy earlier this season when a Reddit user highlighted some questionable block rulings in favor of Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr., who won the DPOY award on Monday night. It was not a barb meant to be taken that seriously.)
• The Nets are now forced to reckon with the fact that they threw two pretty good punches in back-to-back games in Philadelphia and didn't come especially close to beating the Sixers. The home team looked miserable in the first half on Monday night, with James Harden sputtering and the rest of the team cold from the field.
On the Harden front – this is now two straight games with poor inside-the-arc finishing for Harden, a worrying sign to start the playoffs. While the Sixers did not shy away from discussing his poor night from the field, Rivers and Embiid both praised Harden's floor game as part of the reason they rebounded in the second half.
"Bad shooting night, but he did a good job of managing and just [kept] going," Embiid said. "He was aggressive, it's kind of crazy that he's not getting any free throws. I thought he's been getting fouled a lot, and I don't think he's been to the free-throw line at all during these two games, which is kind of insane to think about."
(If you think Embiid or this writer care about the hypocrisy of making fun of Vaughn's attempt while sticking up for his teammate, you have come to the wrong place.)
At some point, they will need more than game management, but that was enough to beat the sixth-seeded Nets on Monday.
• Let's just throw the Nets a bone and include a clip of that Johnson dunk to end the story.
CAM JOHNSON PUT EMBIID ON A POSTER 😱 pic.twitter.com/NbrLSFiTGe— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 18, 2023
All for nothing, in the end, but damn that was sweet.
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