Aside from T.J. McConnell doing his Kyle Lowry impression, one of the things that pleased Brett Brown most about Monday night’s 103-92 win over the Celtics was shot distribution. Six of his players had double-digit field goal attempts. Yawn, right?
But the two shots Joel Embiid seemed to enjoy were the ones that Boston point guard Terry Rozier delivered to Embiid’s chest during a brief scrum late in the second quarter. Rozier is a 6-foot-2 lithe point guard. Embiid is 7-footer built like an SUV.
Rozier had just committed an offensive foul and Embiid tried to wrestle the ball from Rozier, who was not ready to give it up.
“I was trying to get the ball and keep the game flowing because I felt like we were on a run and I wanted to keep it going,” Embiid said.
In fact, the Sixers were on an 8-0 run that was slowed only when both players were whistled for technical fouls.
“He kept the ball away from me and tried to punch me twice,” Embiid explained, “but too bad he’s so short that he couldn’t get to my face. I was just trying to get the ball and he was the one who swung.”
Said Rozier: “We were out there having fun and it was part of the basketball game and that is all it is.”
When play resumed, Embiid hit a three-pointer to stretch the run to 11-0 and give the Sixers a five-point lead. It wasn’t a game-clinching shot, but one that Embiid absolutely savored. He had 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“Those type of plays boost your energy to another level,” he said. “I like games with that type of stuff.”
Let’s be clear. Embiid can woof with the best of them. He’s forever gratuitously swatting away opponents shots well after the whistle. He knocked Boston reserve guard Shane Larkin out of the game with a hard, but clean, ball screen and hit Marcus Smart in the head while defending in the third quarter. Embiid gestures after he dunks and plays to the fans whenever possible.
As he told a reporter afterward from the French cable network Canal Plus in that language, he loves his interaction with the fans here as much as Allen Iverson did.
“The way Jo handles himself on the floor is great,” said fellow building block Ben Simmons, who looked like regular-season Ben Simmons with 19 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. “He feeds off the energy. He’s a beast in the post, (will) knock down a (long) shot.”
The reason that coach Brown was so pleased with that shot-distribution statistic is because for the first time in this series, the Sixers did not ask Embiid to carry the offense. For the first time, he attempted less than 20 shots.
Dario Saric grabbed some of the lumber with 17 field goal attempts. Simmons and Embiid shot 15 times. Three others attempted at least 10.
Oh, and Embiid was plus-22 on the night. In the first three losses of this series, he was minus-8. The Sixers didn’t play their best game, but it was enough. To continue this series, they will need to win on Wednesday in front of a crowd wearing green and booing Embiid every time he gets the ball.
“For somebody to try to frustrate him and get under his skin, I think he’s just going to throw it down harder,” Simmons said. “He wants to be great. He never wants to half-ass things.”