The fourth quarter — it’s when you’re most likely to see Joel Embiid wave goodbye to a player who fouls out of a game, when Embiid stands with his arms raised egging on the crowd’s cheers.
It’s easy to get caught up in the late-game delights and believe that Embiid is a dominant fourth-quarter player. Embiid himself said that he goes into the fourth quarter thinking that he needs to take over.
“In the fourth quarter, it doesn’t matter if I had a slow first quarter or a big first quarter, I’ve got to take over,” Embiid said Thursday after a win in New York. “Especially if the game is close, I feel like I’m the guy that has to take over and that’s what I’m going to do.”
But this season’s numbers would say otherwise.
Embiid is best right out of the gate. He averages 6.6 points in first quarters this season. It’s when he takes the most shots and hits at a clip of 49.8 percent. A close runner-up is the third quarter, where Embiid is more efficient at 50.6 percent, but scores fewer points.
Even in the win against the Knicks, Embiid scored 13 of his 29 points in the opening frame, and just four points in the final 12 minutes.
You could be thinking that he plays less minutes in the fourth; that’s what I was thinking, too. But it’s not as large of a difference as you might think. Embiid averages 8.3 minutes in the first quarter and 7.9 in the fourth. An average difference of about 24 seconds.
Additionally, Embiid’s .409 three-point percentage in the first quarter is by far his best. The closest he comes to that is in the fourth when he shoots 30.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Embiid said that he tries to let the game come to him early on instead of forcing things or going into takeover mode. If that’s the case, he might want to let the game come to him more often in the fourth quarter.
“I think all players have their own rhythm to how they play,” Brown said Friday. “Any time Joel is aggressive he’s good.”
In terms of percentage of shots made, the fourth quarter is actually Embiid’s least efficient. Of the 232 shots Embiid has taken in the fourth quarter this season, he has hit 107 of them (46.1 percent). The fourth is also Embiid’s least effective defensively. He has a 98.2 defensive rating in the first quarter, compared to 105.1 in the fourth.
“That’s the special part about our team,” Ben Simmons said earlier this week. “It might not be Jo, it might not be me, or JJ [Redick]. It could be T.J. [McConnell] that comes in and makes big plays.”
None of Embiid’s numbers are bad. He averages a double-double of 23.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, and is by far the Sixers’ leading scorer, most dependable player, and most imposing defensive threat.
With the first and third quarters being Embiid’s most efficient, fatigue is the most probably culprit of the drop in numbers in the second and fourth periods. That’s understandable — and expected.
Embiid has been banged up and bandaged throughout the season and playing the most basketball of his life. He has played in more games and for longer stretches than anyone anticipated and has proven to be one of the better players in the league.
It is only Embiid’s second season, and really his first full season in the NBA. But for the argument of growth’s sake, if he wants to be considered one of the best, fourth-quarter domination has to be realized.