Joel Embiid earned plenty of praise for his utter dismantling of DeAndre Jordan, Willie Reed a.k.a. What’s His Name and the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night. As it turned out, though, JoJo was just getting warmed up for what would be his real Staples Center showcase — and the surest sign yet that the Philadelphia 76ers, young and odd and all of a sudden as they feel — are very real, and potentially brilliant, and already pretty damn terrifying.
A pair of off-days in Los Angeles has felled an awful lot of giants over the years, but “The Process” proceeded unencumbered by any Hollywood haze. Embiid absolutely tortured the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, annihilating Brook Lopez, Andrew Bogut, Julius Randle and any other poor soul in forum blue and gold who happened to wander into the blast radius.
The stat line beggars belief: 46 points on 14-for-20 shooting (including 2-for-3 from 3-point land) and a 16-for-19 mark from the free-throw line, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks in 34 minutes and 29 seconds of incineration. The points, assists and blocks all represented career highs; the rebounds were one off the high-water mark he set Monday against the Clips.
It’s the most any Sixer has scored in a game since Allen Iverson, nearly 11 years ago. It had been 35 years since an NBA player had gone for 40 with seven dimes and seven swats. No player since the NBA started counting blocks in in 1973 had ever put up 45-15-7-7 before Embiid did it on Wednesday.
And the damnedest thing was, the Sixers needed every last erg of Embiid’s excellence, because the Lakers refused to break.
L.A. just kept coming, taking a 101-100 lead on a Randle free throw with 4:19 to go in regulation. So Philly did what has now, after a couple of years lost to injury and frustration, begun to come naturally: throw the ball to No. 21 and let him go to work.
— All Ball (@allballapp) November 16, 2017
Embiid’s series of fakes shook Randle out of position, allowing him to step through for an and-one layup that put the Sixers back on top, 103-101.
They’d never trail again, pulling away behind timely shot-making from Embiid, Ben Simmons and about-to-be-very-wealthy swingman Robert Covington to put the finishing touches on a 115-109 victory that left superstar comedian and Philadelphia native Kevin Hart ranting and raving like he was on an episode of The Rights to Ricky Sanchez:
Kevin Hart interview bombs Joel Embiid after his historic performance. pic.twitter.com/uBVrd2J5sj
— Nick Piccone (@nickpiccone) November 16, 2017
Embiid, for his part, wanted to make sure we knew that he believes the best is yet to come, because he doesn’t yet feel like he’s in peak condition after being limited this preseason coming back from knee surgery. If he had to put a percentage on his healthy, Joel would have to say …
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 16, 2017
After the Sixers raced out to a 20-7 lead five minutes into the game, with Embiid and Rookie of the Year favorite Simmons getting wherever and whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it, the Lakers started throwing counterpunches. (It is worth noting that those counterpunches began coming in earnest when Simmons, Embiid and haunted shooter Lonzo Ball exited the court.) Brandon Ingram — taken one spot after Simmons in last year’s draft — attacked his way to 11 points in 11 minutes, helping lead L.A. back to within three points, 29-26, after the opening frame.
The same script unfolded in the second quarter, with Embiid beating a steady march to the free-throw line to rebuild Philly’s lead back to double digits midway through the frame, only for the hard-charging Ingram and impressive rookie Kyle Kuzma to reel the Sixers back in. Kuzma, in particular, seemed hell-bent on making a statement.
With just over one minute remaining in the first half, the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA draft raced up the court in transition, caught Embiid kind of half-stepping his way back into the paint on defense, and decided he wanted to go viral and become a legend:
Kyle Kuzma tried to put Joel Embiid on a poster, drew the foul pic.twitter.com/mrh17AGK89
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 16, 2017
Another angle of Kuzma trying to put Embiid on a poster, Embiid laughs pic.twitter.com/xJ8Hck4DXe
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 16, 2017
In the micro sense, Kuzma’s Leeroy Jenkins moment only amounted to Embiid’s first foul and two free throws. In the bigger picture, though, it served notice: we got some dudes, too, and we’re not going anywhere.
They wouldn’t, staying within hailing distance throughout the second half thanks to the aggression of Ingram, Kuzma and reserve guard Jordan Clarkson. Ultimately, though, the Lakers just could not produce anything resembling an answer for Embiid, who scored 28 points after intermission, and 19 in the fourth alone, to keep the Lakers off balance …
… and at arm’s length.
Simmons continued the impeccable start to his pro career as the NBA’s top rookie with 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting, 10 assists, nine rebounds, five steals, one block and just one turnover in 39 minutes.
Covington added 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including a clutch 3 that gave Philly a two-possession lead with 2:20 to go, and six rebounds in the win, the Sixers’ seventh in nine games. Brett Brown’s club now sits at 8-6, level with the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
Ingram turned in his best game of the season, scoring a team-high 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting with 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 40 minutes. The second rejection came on a “holy crap” play, using his condor wingspan to swat a J.J. Redick 3-pointer before leaking out in transition, corralling a pass and swooping in for a dunk to get the Lakers within four in the final minute:
Rookie forward Kuzma continue to make his presence felt, too. The Utah product popped for a career-high 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting with seven rebounds in place of the injured Larry Nance Jr. in L.A.’s starting lineup.
Clarkson needed 21 shots to score his 20 points off the bench, but head coach Luke Walton once again preferred him to Ball down the stretch. The No. 2 overall pick, whose struggles shooting the ball have become a constant topic of conversation in the young season, managed just two points on 1-for-9 shooting to go with five rebounds, two assists and one steal in 21 1/2 minutes. As was the case in the Lakers’ Monday win over the Phoenix Suns, Ball didn’t see any action in the fourth quarter, with the game in the balance — a storyline that will bear watching down the line.
On this night, though, the story couldn’t be anything else but Embiid: a player whose size and skill evoked careful and hushed comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon when he came out of Kansas in 2014, whose troublesome navicular bone and meniscus have kept us from getting a full look at his gifts for the last three years, and who now appears to be completely free to rampage to his heart’s content.
Joel Embiid is shooting 60% when single covered in the post this season.
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) November 16, 2017
Embiid is now averaging 23 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.0 steals in 29 minutes per game; the list of guys who’ve put numbers like that is 15 names long, and full of Hall of Famers and perennial All-Stars. As noted by Derek Bodner of The Athletic, when Embiid’s on the court, the Sixers outscore their opponents by a Warriors-esque 11 points per 100 possessions, and when he’s not on it, they get outscored by 11.8 points-per-100, a mark more in line with what the putrid Bulls have put together this season. He gets better seemingly every time he takes the court, improving in great, Euro-stepping leaps that leave us baffled, mesmerized and wondering just what the hell this guy’s ceiling might be … if it even exists.
After totalling 78 points and 31 rebounds en route to devastating the Clippers and Lakers, there’s no way around it: Joel Embiid is a blockbuster smash the likes of which we’ve never seen. You can call him whatever you wish — JoJo, The Process, an unholy amalgam of Shaq, Dream and Dirk, anything you want. With apologies to LeBron, though, you might want to add one more title: King of Los Angeles. After this week, the man’s damn sure earned it.
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