Skip to content

The start of Joel Embiid's playoff legacy

Joel Embiid's game-winning three will receive all of the attention in the coming days, and deservedly so. But the work he put in to get the Sixers back in the game was equally impressive.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The more time that goes by, the details of a playoff game, playoff series and even a lengthy playoff run get swept away, replaced by flashbulb memories of specific events that become imprinted in the collective memory of the basketball viewing public.

Despite the fact that Joel Embiid has developed into one of the league's premier two-way forces, and a consensus top-5 player in the world, his career has lacked these defining postseason moments. Instead, Embiid was there to witness events from others on the court, whether that be Kawhi Leonard's shot or Ben Simmons' pass, both of which he was on the losing end of. That's not to say that Embiid was merely a bystander, as his own struggles played a role in the Sixers dropping both of those two series, but it sort of goes back to the original point that we remember signature moments far more than the details which led up to them.

There was a lot to unpack in last night's 104-101 Sixers win, which gave them a 3-0 series lead and pushed Toronto to the brink of elimination. From the Sixers' first-half struggles to Embiid's monster second half, filled with some of the most impressive shot-making of his career; from Tobias Harris' lock-down defense to the pair of potential game-winning miscues. But when we think back to this series in five years few will remember any of that. They were just events that got us to the defining moment of the series, and the first shot heard around the world of Joel Embiid's playoff legacy.

It is, of course, just the first round of the playoffs, with the Sixers the higher-ranked team, and a shot that came in a non-elimination game at that. Legacies aren't built on first-round swishes, unless it's followed by more, even higher profile moments that lead to legitimate championship contention. If the Sixers flame out in the second round, Embiid's shot will become an occasionally referenced footnote to another imperfect team.

But all legacies have to start somewhere, and Joel Embiid's turnaround three that found the bottom of the net with less than a second remaining in overtime is as good of a place as any.

Embiid's shot was, admittedly, ridiculous: a turnaround three, with the clock running down and under duress, in hostile territory that was a house of horrors for Embiid earlier in his career, and yet Embiid made it look easy and effortless. 7-foot-2 big men aren't supposed to have that combination of touch, footwork, skill level and composure, or at least that's what we were conditioned to believe in bygone eras.

What was just as impressive was everything that led up to that moment, the pivotal moments of the game that put Embiid in position to even take the shot in the first place.

Embiid had just five points on five shots, with four turnovers, at intermission. The Raptors, sparked by the intensity of their home crowd, for the first time this series looked like the pesky team that could frustrate Embiid. It was the kind of game, and environment, that seemed tailor-made for Toronto to steal. And while, even if the Raptors did come away victorious in Game 3, I would question whether they could keep up that energy consistently enough to win four times in this series, they could at least claw back from their 2-0 hole and put a little scare in the Sixers.

Then Joel Embiid responded in a way he hasn't always in the past, putting the Sixers on his back with an impressive array of shot-making and defensive dominance as the Sixers slowly clawed their way back from the 17-point second quarter deficit. He wasn't alone – Tobias Harris' defense deserves a huge shout-out, as does Tyrese Maxey's energy, James Harden's floor game and even Georges Niang's perimeter shooting – but this was clearly Embiid's game. This was MVP type shit.

The way the Sixers have been able to claw out wins in different ways, responding to what's needed in each of the three games so far, has been impressive, and important when projecting forward to future matchups. They beat the Raptors when Toronto was making all of their perimeter shots, and they found a way to claw out a win even when Toronto's defense finally forced the turnovers they need to thrive. The Sixers have displayed an impressive amount of resiliency in this first-round series against the Raptors, and Embiid's dominance and versatility has been front and center to all of it.

The attention Embiid will receive from The Shot was, in many respects, the reward for everything he did to put them in that position in the first place.


This post is for subscribers only.

Monthly - $5/month (One month free trial) Yearly - $39/year (Just $3.25/month)

Already have an account? Log in

Find out more about me, my background, and my goal with the newsletter at the About me page

Latest