The NBA is a star-driven league. The teams with more stars win far more than those without. With Ben Simmons recovering from knee surgery, right now the Sixers are down to one star. And if they want their season to last longer than another week, that star needs to shine as brightly as he ever has.
In order for the Sixers to beat the Celtics in a seven-game series, Joel Embiid has to dominate. He has to be "the best player in the world," as he has told us several times in the past that he is.
In the Sixers' Game 1 loss, the big man had 15 field goal attempts, and went just 1 for 5 from the floor in the fourth quarter, with only one of his attempts coming from a low-post opportunity. This from a player who had more post-up than any other player in the game this season, and by a considerable margin.
After the game, Embiid put the loss on his shoulders.
"I've gotta do more," he said. "Whatever the stats are, I've gotta do more. I've got one job to do - it's to carry us. I'm going to need my teammates to help me, but I've gotta do more. I've gotta take more shots, I've gotta be more aggressive. Defensively, I've gotta help my teammates. We've all gotta play hard, take care of the ball and do our job and follow the game plan."
Taking blame for a loss is a sign of a leader. At the same time, the quote above is just that: words. You want to show leadership? The time is now to stop telling us you have to do more, and do it.
This won't be easy, by any stretch. Everyone on both teams - and everyone watching - knows Embiid will be the focal point of the offense. But great players excel in spite of that. At the end of Game 7 of last season's second-round series against the Raptors, everyone in the universe knew which Toronto player would take the final shot: Kawhi Leonard. And he did, in spite of being chased by the 6-foot-10 Simmons the 7-foot Embiid. We all know how that played out.
Great players command the ball in big situations. Note the verb in that sentence. Command. Not request. Not, "Hey, if you have the chance ... " Give. Me. The. Ball.
If this means he has to chew out a teammate or two, so be it. Let them know, in no uncertain terms - if you see me down low, get me the ball, and get the heck out of the way. If this happens, win or lose, there will be plenty of time to talk things out afterwards.
Moreover, Embiid has to command the ball in "his office," the low post, and use his skill set to create offense from that spot, whether it be via his array of post moves, drawing fouls, or distributing to willing perimeter jump shooters and slashers.
Embiid finished with 26 points and 16 rebounds. That's a very good night, especially in a postseason game. But it's not enough.
He has said about himself, "I'm the most unstoppable player in the league." There is no better time to prove it to the Celtics and the world.
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Joel Embiid needs to step up for the Sixers to survive originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia