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April 18, 2023

Joel Embiid brings MVP play to the playoffs

Joel Embiid's continued dominance against the Nets makes him the player who "won the week" in Philly sports.

Any media member who voted for Joel Embiid as the NBA's MVP for this regular season certainly isn't regretting their choice with how he's looked in the playoffs. The Sixers have taken a swift 2-0 series lead in the first round over the Brooklyn Nets with a combined margin of victory of 32. Embiid, who improbably is getting better and better at 29 years old, is the catalyst for all of that.

With the Sixers dying to finally break through that second-round wall and make a true title run, Embiid is carrying them there and is the easy choice for who "won the week in Philly sports," my recurring weekly feature here at PhillyVoice. 

More on Embiid throttling the Nets...

Point Center 🏀

In the MVP race the last few seasons, pundits have pointed to the versatility of two-time winner Nikola Jokić's offensive game, especially his passing, working as a floor distributor even at 6'11". Well, Embiid is taking an "anything you can do, I can do better" approach to that. 

The Nets' futile plan to slow down the Sixers has been to double-team Embiid this series, a continuous failure through two games. Embiid's work as facilitator on Monday night, not simply being an all-world scorer, was integral in the Sixers' 12-point victory. The big fella put up a 20-19-7 stat line. Those seven assists are tied for the second most he's ever had in a postseason game. 

When doubled, Embiid has kicked it out with the Sixers' array of shooters knocking down three after three. In Saturday's Game 1 win, the Sixers set a franchise playoff record with 21 made threes. James Harden had seven of them and provided a vintage scoring punch. In Game 2, it was Tyrese Maxey's shooting stroke making the Nets pay, as the third-year guard dropped 33 points and made six threes. Maxey was off in Game 1 and Harden was off in Game 2. They'll both need to show up every night if the Sixers are going to finally make the Eastern Conference Finals, but for a relatively lowly opponent like Brooklyn, it's good enough because of the way Embiid has evolved his game beyond simply destroying defenses with continuous buckets. 

Shot Blocker 👋

While Embiid's defensive awareness has improved over the years, he's not the shot blocker he was as a rookie during the 2017 campaign. That's common for young big men. They come into the league overeager to launch the ball 10 feet into the stands rather than playing smart, sound defense. Embiid averaged a career-best 2.5 blocks per game and 7.7 percent block rate that season. He's in a good middle ground now, but that shot-blocking ability was on display in Game 2. 

Brooklyn's Cam Johnson had a nice dunk on Embiid earlier in the night, but he got his revenge here in the fourth quarter with a volleyball-style swat:

Embiid finished with three blocks for the night, but, unsurprisingly, believes he should've been credited for more:

Here's him thwarting Nets budding star (and briefly former Sixer) Mikal Bridges in Game 1, too:

Trash Talker 🗣️

Embiid gets extra points in my super-scientific formula for who "won the week" with his postgame comments Monday night. As our Sixers beat writer Kyle Neubeck noted, Embiid had the following exchange with the media following the Game 2 win:

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?

Embiid: 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.

Throwing shade at the Nets and the Raptors in a single sentence? He's an MVP at the podium, too. 

I have a strong suspicion Embiid is going to win this award next week as well after the Sixers send the Nets packing to Cancun. 

Last week's winner: Bryson Stott 

2023 Who Won the Week Tally:

Joel Embiid: 5

James Harden: 2

Bryson Stott: 1

Mac McClung: 1

Haason Reddick: 1

Kenny Gainwell: 1

DeVonta Smith: 1

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