ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid shoots as Boston Celtics’ Grant Williams (12) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
As the Philadelphia 76ers head into the playoffs, will this finally be the year that Joel Embiid becomes the NBA’s MVP? And can the Sixers be the team that finally gives Philly a much-desired championship parade?
By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday SUN
If you look at this Philadelphia 76ers squad at this point of the regular season, you can arguably say that it might be as good as any other team that they’ve had in the past five years.
Center Joel Embiid is the odds-on favorite to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, according to most observers. He is averaging a league-leading 33 points per game and is seventh in the NBA in rebounds with 10.1 a game. More importantly, Embiid has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can carry his team whether it’s scoring in the low or sticking a three-pointer.
In Tuesday night’s 103-101 win over the Boston Celtics, Embiid scored 52 points, pulled 13 rebounds, and dished out six assists—including three that led to three 3-point baskets for teammate P.J. Tucker. On a night when both Tyrese Maxey (2-of-8, five points) and Tobias Harris (2-for-8, 5 points) struggled to find their shots, Embiid made an emphatic case for the MVP by putting his team on his back.
“What we did right was Joel Embiid,” said Sixers head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers. “The MVP race is over. We couldn’t make shots. We had guys (missing) open shots. The man just scored half our points in an NBA game. I’m biased, but the MVP race is over.”
Meanwhile, point guard James Harden has more than settled into his role as the team facilitator and leads the NBA in assists with 10.8 and he’s averaging 21 points per game. He still has the touch from three-point range, shooting 38 percent from behind the arc. Against Boston, Harden scored 20 points and had 10 assists.
The question for Sixers is if they can get past the second round, something that will be even harder than usual because they’ll have to go through a Celtics squad that has often had their number.
Tuesday’s win helped the Sixers avoid a season sweep from the Celtics, who won three of their four matchups between the two teams. In fact, some careless fouls and a lack of solid defense led to the Sixers nearly blowing a 7-point lead in the game’s final nine seconds.
While Rivers wasn’t happy with how the game ended, he intends to use this sloppy win as a teachable moment for his team.
“It was, in some ways, it was a good way because it gave us material in a crazy way to hit home about all the little things,” Rivers said. “In the game execution for sure now, there’s no doubt about that. In the first half, we let them stay in the game because we kept getting mismatched in transition. We’ve got to match up in transition better than we do. Milwaukee did the same thing. They found guys in transition.”
If the Sixers somehow get past Boston, they will have to face a Bucks squad led by Giannis Antekoumpo, who lit the 76ers up for 33 points the last time they played each other on April 2. The good news for the Sixers as they get ready for the upcoming playoffs is that they did beat the Bucks twice in the four games they faced them during the regular season.
While Sixers fans have been cheering on Embiid to win the NBA MVP award, there is still a healthy amount of skepticism around the city about the 76ers advancing beyond the second round.
“If we end up the No. 2 seed, we might see (Boston) in the second round if we make it there, you’ve got to be ready for every scenario,” Embiid said. “If we can correct a lot of the mistakes we made, we gotta pretty good chance.”
As you have your Easter brunch on Sunday, catch the Philadelphia 76ers as they take on the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia at 1 p.m.
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