Joker wins MVP, Embiid leads Sixers to victory

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On Sunday, we got to witness two teams down 0-2 in their respective series win Game 4 and tie things up at two games apiece. Dallas relied on its excellent defense to halt Phoenix in its tracks, while the Sixers got a major boost from Joel Embiid and a breakout performance from James Harden. Fast forward to Monday, and the winner of the MVP was announced. We’ve got a lot to get into, so let’s get to it!

Jokic wins second straight MVP

Nikola Jokic was awarded the NBA’s MVP award Monday, edging out competitors Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. Though Giannis was in the running, this was ultimately viewed as a two-person race between Jokic and Embiid. We’ll have to wait until voting results are released, but it’s likely that Embiid will finish as the runner-up to Jokic for a second-straight season. The timing of the announcement is particularly bad, as Joel Embiid just let the 76ers to a win Sunday that evened up the series with Miami. Philly fans are surely upset, but this is a regular-season award without taking playoff performances into account. There’s obviously a case to make for either player. How do their seasons stack up?

Nikola Jokic

  • Averaged: 27.1 PTS, 13.8 REB, 7.9 AST, 1.5 STL, 1.3 3PT, 58.3 FG%, 81.0 FT%

  • 46-26 team record with him and 2-6 team record without him

  • First season ever with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists

  • First player to average at least 25/13/6 in a single season

  • First player to finish top-10 per game in points, rebounds, assists and FG% in 50 seasons

Joel Embiid

  • Averaged: 30.6 PTS, 11.7 REB, 4.2 AST, 1.5 BLK, 1.1 STL, 1.4 3PT, 49.4 FG% 81.4 FT%

  • 45-23 team record with him and 6-8 team record without him

  • Most games with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a single season (13) since the merger

  • First center to win the scoring title since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-00

We can ignore the advanced stats for the sake of simplicity and see pretty clearly that there wasn’t a huge disparity in points, rebounds, threes or stocks. Jokic held the clear edge in assists and led all big men in that category. Since these two aren’t miles apart based on raw numbers, how else can we determine the better season?

Let’s talk about teammates. Jokic’s Nuggets finished sixth in the West with a 48-34 record despite not having Jamal Murray all season and Michael Porter Jr. for only nine games. The Joker’s best teammate was one of Will Barton or Aaron Gordon with Bones Hyland in the mix toward the end of the season. The roster was forgettable at best, and Jokic made chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what on a regular basis. He led the league with 19 triple-doubles and set career-highs in nearly every category. Without him, is there any doubt the Nuggets would have been eagerly awaiting the upcoming draft lottery for a high selection?

Joel Embiid didn’t get James Harden until after the trade deadline, but his surrounding cast was certainly better than Jokic’s all year. Embiid played alongside Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris for the whole season, Harden for nearly a third of it and Seth Curry and Andre Drummond until the trade deadline. Harden has lost a step, but Maxey is on the rise, Curry remains one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters, Harris is a dependable second or third option and Drummond had a solid year as a rebounder.

There’s no question Jokic did more with less. I don’t want to penalize Embiid for the talent of his teammates or detract in any way from what he did this season, but in such a close race the award, the edge goes to the player with the biggest impact on his team in the regular season. Embiid’s huge playoff boost has no bearing on the MVP voting, and the voters got this one right. Without Jokic, the Nuggets would have lost the team’s leading scorer, rebounder and playmaker. Embiid’s impact is incredible, but he wasn’t snubbed here. He just has the unfortunate honor of playing in an era with a more deserving recipient.

Sixers 116, Heat 108: Butler's 40 points fall short

After two straight wins over the Sixers in South Beach, Miami traveled north to City of Brotherly Love to pickup two straight losses. The Heat suffocated the Sixers in the first two games, but with Joel Embiid back in action and playing through face and thumb injuries, Philly was rejuvenized. Despite a heroic effort from Jimmy Butler, this one was all Philly.

  • Joel Embiid went for 24 points, 11 boards, two dimes and a block while shooting better than 50% from the floor. It’s apparent just how much different the Sixers look with and without him on the floor, and he’s now guided Philly back from the brink after being down 2-0 to Miami. Defense, spacing and scoring are much easier when Embiid’s around, and there’s no question how much of an emotional boost his presence has injected into this team.

  • James Harden finally broke out of his recent funk, delivering an excellent line in Sunday’s victory. The Beard posted 31 points on 8-of-18 shooting and 6-of-10 triples while handing out nine assists and pulling down seven boards. The 31 points are his most of the postseason, and the six triples mark the second time he’s hit that many in all of the 2021-22 season, matching his performance on Nov. 12.

  • Danny Green hit three more triples on his way to 11 points, and he’s combined to go 10-of-13 from beyond the arc in the Sixers’ last two wins.

  • Georges Niang got a much-needed confidence boost when he hit 3-of-6 field goals and 2-of-5 triples for 10 points, three dimes and two boards. He combined for just eight points on 3-of-5 shooting in Games 1-3.

  • Jimmy Butler did his best to will the Heat to a win, but his team came up short. Jimmy Buckets scored 40 points on just 20 shots and added six dimes, three boards, two steals and two blocks. It was his fourth 30-point game of the postseason and second 40-pointer.

  • Bam Adebayo added 21 points, seven boards and four dimes. He went for 23.5 points and 10.5 boards in Games 1 and 2 without Embiid, but his numbers have fallen to 15.0 points and 5.0 boards with Embiid back in the picture. The impact of the Sixers’ big man is evident.

  • Tyler Herro finished with a double-double of 11 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and an assist. It was his first playoff double-double since the 2020 bubble.

  • Victor Oladipo put up 15 points, three rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks, delivering another quality performance off the bench. He’s scored at least 15 points in three of six playoff appearances and has added a nice spark for Miami’s second unit.

Mavericks 111, Suns 101: Finney-Smith heats up, Mavs defense smothers Phoenix

Just like the Sixers-Heat series, Mavs-Suns has been a true tale of two cities. In Games 1 and 2, Phoenix averaged 125 points and won by an average margin of 13.5. In Games 3 and 4, Phoenix averaged just 97.5 points and lost by an average margin of 9.5. Dallas’ defense stifled the Suns in back-to-back wins, and the series is evened up heading back to the desert for Game 3 on Tuesday.

  • Devin Booker delivered a game-high 35 points to go with seven dimes, four boards and a block. This was Booker’s third 30-point effort of the postseason, and the Suns are 1-2 in those contests.

  • Deandre Ayton totaled 14 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks for his second straight double-double. It was a nice effort for the big man, but his production against Dallas is a far cry from the numbers he put up against New Orleans in the first round.

  • Chris Paul ended with five points, five rebounds, seven assists and a steal before fouling out in just 23 minutes. In two games at Dallas, CP3 averaged just 8.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.5 dimes while committing nine total fouls and 10 total turnovers. He’ll need to be so much better in a crucial Game 5 at home.

  • Mikal Bridges finished with a pedestrian 6/4/2/1 line. Dallas’ defense got the best of him as well, as he shot just 34.8% from the field in Games 3 and 4 after shooting 60% in Games 1 and 2.

  • Luka Doncic shot just 9-of-25 and 1-of-10 from three and delivered a 26/7/11/3 line in the win. He teased a triple-double as he often does, but Doncic struggled to get into any kind of offensive rhythm. Fortunately, he had some help.

  • Dorian Finney-Smith came out of nowhere to deliver 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc and added eight boards, an assist and a steal. Prior to Sunday’s eruption, his career-high in threes for any game was six, and his playoff career-high was just four. DFS enjoyed the best season of his career in the regular season, and that success has carried over into the playoffs, where he’s been a reliable option on both ends of the court.