Since returning from a torn ligament in his left ring finger that cost Joel Embiid nine games, he has admittedly been out of sync.
The Sixers are frequently leaving the middle open for Ben Simmons to drive and Embiid often is on the perimeter.
Yet, Embiid remains most effective in the post — no surprise — and that was the case especially in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 118-111 win over the visiting Chicago Bulls.
Embiid spent a lot of time on the perimeter in the first three quarters, but in the fourth, he was closer to the basket more frequently and the results helped improve the Sixers’ record to 33-21, including an NBA-best 24-2 at home.
For the game, he had 28 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals, four blocked shots, and four turnovers, shooting 8-for-17 from the field.
In the fourth quarter, he scored 12 points, hitting 4-of-5 field goal attempts, including a three-pointer that sealed matters and increased the Sixers’ lead to 117-108 with 39 seconds left.
After that three, he put his hand to his mouth, shushing the crowd.
“I was just talking to myself,” he said about the gesture. “I have not been playing up to my standards, even tonight, I didn’t shoot the ball well, I didn’t play well so I was just mad at myself, just frustrated, just got to try to get better every single day.”
He was asked if the shush had anything to do with the crowd’s earlier booing.
“I don’t care how it looks,” he said. “I am just playing basketball, getting back to myself, just being a good (bleep), just playing basketball and just trying to dominate.”
One of the reasons coach Brett Brown wants the middle open for Simmons is his recent improvement at the foul line.
Not that long ago, opposing teams hoped that Simmons would take the ball to the basket. They would foul him due to his struggles at the foul line.
The last 10 games, Simmons has shot 66 for 89 from the foul line (74.1 percent) after going 7 for 10 against the Bulls.
As the fourth quarter started, with Simmons out of the game, Embiid figured in the Sixers’ first four baskets. He began by hitting a short jump hook over 7-foot-1 Luke Kornet and on the next offensive possession, rebounded a Mike Scott miss, and sent home a follow dunk. On the next trip, he fed Furkan Korkmaz for a layup. That was followed on the fourth possession by two free throws after being fouled in the post.
Brown said that posting Embiid down low in the fourth quarter was clearly by design.
It was,” Brown said. “When you looked at the group we had on the floor and you say where is your advantage, we felt it was Joel posting, we did that and he had a great fourth period.”
While the second-straight game of more than 30 points by Korkmaz drew most of the attention, the Sixers best way moving forward is when Embiid finds a true comfort zone in the offense, especially down low. He says that remains a work in progress.