Bulls look inward after Joel Embiid's career-high scoring performance

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K.C. Johnson
·3 min read
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Bulls look inward after Joel Embiid's dominant night originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Joel Embiid has firmly placed himself in the conversation for NBA's most valuable player with scintillating play all season for the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers.

The big man took such talk a step further Friday night in Philadelphia, scoring a career-high 50 points while manhandling the Bulls in a dominant performance that also featured 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals.

The Bulls paid their respects and acknowledged Embiid's talent. But perhaps most tellingly, they also looked inward, particularly coach Billy Donovan.

"Listen, he played a great game. But I thought we had a lot of mistakes," Donovan said. "We left our feet for shot fakes. We fouled him. We took a really poor stance in post defense. Wendell (Carter Jr.) picked up two fouls (early), probably fouls he maybe could have avoided. I thought when we did play him correctly, I thought our help was late on the back side when he went baseline. That happened too much."

Donovan cited Embiid sinking multiple pull-up, non-paint jumpers as the skill part. But he also pointed to the Bulls' fouling too much -- Embiid sank 15 of 17 free throws -- and slow rotations that contributed to the 76ers scoring 23 second-chance points. Embiid himself had six offensive rebounds.

It's this standard that Donovan is trying to get his team to understand. And he's holding players accountable while doing so. Despite Wendell Carter Jr. getting off to an impressive and aggressive offensive start, Donovan opted to close with Thad Young. He did this because Young is a better positional defender, fouls less and is a better facilitator offensively.

"They didn’t overcomplicate it. Thy played over our lack of size. They threw the ball up to the basket. They had those guys go get it, and Embiid played over the top of us. Some of that stuff, we couldn’t do anything with," Donovan said. "There’s going to be some nights where we just can’t control that. They’re just bigger than us and longer and maybe stronger. But the other stuff that we can control, that’s the stuff that we got to keep cleaning up and being more consistent too."

Young tried to take a crucial charge from Embiid with 1 minute, 28 seconds left and the Bulls down two. Donovan admitted he contemplated challenging the call, which was a bang-bang decision, but opted not to because the Bulls had two timeouts left in a close game on a night they were having trouble scoring and the play was at the other end of the court so he didn't get a good look at it.

Carter, who finished with 15 points, didn't offer much with his postgame comments on the experience of guarding Embiid.

"Great player. He knocked down a lot of shots. There is not really much else I can say about it. Very skilled. Very big player. There’s only so much you can do," Carter said. "It’s tough. They’ve got really good shooters around him, so double-teaming is kind of hard to do. He’s just a tough guard. You know what I’m saying? I don’t know how else to say it. Tough guard.”

But Donovan will like this. Carter also looked inward, saying he kind of strayed from the defensive game plan.

"I kind of got into my own mental and I started playing him straight up and allowing him to get middle," Carter said. "Just got to do a better job from the get go. You have to stick to our game plan."

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