The stats say that Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid is the NBA‘s most clutch player this season, and he certainly looked like it in Boston on Monday night. The Sixers trailed the rival Celtics 80-75 after three quarters of action, but then Embiid absolutely went off. The big man put Philadelphia on his back in the fourth quarter, and his 17 points in that final frame propelled the Sixers to a 108-103 victory. In all, Embiid finished the game with 41 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals.
Embiid’s 17 fourth quarter points were especially impressive given the fact that they were all scored in the final six minutes of the game. He sunk nine free throws over that period and when he wasn’t getting to the line, he was knocking down clutch shots over Enes Freedom. Like this one:
And this one:
Embiid spent a good portion of the game around the perimeter on the offensive end, but when it was winning time, the Sixers ran the offense through him in the post, and he repeatedly made the Celtics pay for not double-teaming him, as we saw in the above plays.
When the double did come, Embiid made the right read and quickly kicked the ball out to the wing. On this play with less than two minutes remaining, Embiid quickly popped the ball out to Seth Curry as soon as he felt added pressure from Marcus Smart coming. Curry quickly swung the ball to Danny Green who knocked down a crucial 3-ball for Philly.
Embiid won’t get an assist on the stat sheet (unless hockey assists are counted), but it was his quick decision-making that generated an open opportunity for Green.
In addition to beating Boston’s doubles with his passing, Embiid also beat them with elite shot-making. In the shot that proved to be the dagger in the game, Embiid dribbled away from Smart’s incoming double and drilled a difficult step back over both Smart and Freedom.
Embiid’s clutch play has been a bright spot for the Sixers this season. However, the players around him have struggled to produce consistently. On Monday night, though, the big man got some help. Seth Curry added 26 points (on 14 shots) and seven assists, and Tobias Harris had 25 points and seven rebounds. Their contributions were especially important since Philadelphia’s bench, shorthanded as it was, mustered just a single point.
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Embiid declared himself Philadelphia’s closer earlier this month, and he certainly lived up to that billing against the Celtics. It’s difficult for a post player to be a team’s go-to guy in today’s perimeter-oriented league, which is why Philadelphia continues to need perimeter players to step up around Embiiid. But when they’re able to run their late-game offense through the big man, the Sixers are definitely dangerous, as Boston learned the hard way.