Call the insurance agency, alert the authorities, and check all the closets. Joel Embiid was robbed. There can be no further argument.
If the NBA had any integrity, it would revoke the voting privileges of the 100 ding-dongs who put someone other than Embiid at the top of their MVP ballots. Maybe not the Derrick Rose vote. You don’t argue with that kind of crazy. Everybody else, though? Have fun with the Most Improved Player award. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
Is that a ludicrous take? Yes it is. Detached from reality? Of course. Ignorant of the rules, regulations and voting procedures that said Nikola Jokić was the rightful winner of this year’s MVP trophy? A hundred percent. But it doesn’t matter. Not after what we saw from Embiid on Tuesday night. The man scored 40 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and somehow the box score didn’t come close to capturing the magnitude of the performance.
Coming off a stunning Game 1 loss, playing on a torn meniscus in his right knee, patrolling the paint in the face of a frenetic pick-and-roll attack, Embiid single-handedly altered the balance of power in this best-of-seven conference semifinal series.
“I’m focused on the playoffs,” said Embiid, who learned before the game that he’d finished second to Jokić in the MVP balloting. “I’m focused on winning a championship. Like I’ve been saying all season, we’ve got a good chance. So I’m not worrying about those awards. If and when I’m holding that trophy, anything else won’t matter.”
If he continues playing like this, he won’t just be holding a championship trophy, he’ll be the Finals MVP. The record will show that a team called the Sixers beat the Hawks, 118-102, in Game 2. But this was all Embiid. He wasn’t just the best player at the Wells Fargo Center. He was the best player in the sport.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but most likely not. Not when you consider the impact he had on all 4,700 square feet of the court. On the defensive end alone, he was a game-changing force. Two days after Trae Young exploded for 35 points and 10 assists in the series opener, Embiid played a critical role in frustrating the Hawks’ pick-and-roll sets. Young shot just 6-for-16 from the field, including 1-for-7 from three-point range while finishing with a pedestrian 21 points. The pesky point guard had 11 assists, but they came with four turnovers, and the Sixers outscored Atlanta by 11 when he was on the court.
“Tonight, you just saw the dominance of him as a player, what he is able to do,” Sixers forward Tobias Harris said. “I thought defensively he was key for us in disrupting their pick-and-roll. He’s been amazing. When you can go out there and get 40 and 13 and play the way he played, that’s a huge effort.”
As far as individual legacies go, Embiid’s MVP loss could end up as a piddly little footnote when the historians and Hall of Fame voters look back on Tuesday night. True to his self-assigned nickname, Embiid could be in The Process of putting together one of his sport’s all-time great playoff performances. Through two games, he has scored 79 points on 25-of-46 shooting. The Sixers have outscored the Hawks by 27 points in the 75 minutes that he has been on the court (in the other 21 minutes, they’ve been outscored by 15). Including four games against the Wizards, his postseason plus-minus is a ridiculous plus-97. In six playoff games, he is averaging 29.6 points and shooting .592 from the field. He is 9-of-21 from the three-point line, including 2 of 5 in Game 2.
“I don’t know if the MVP thing did anything to him or not,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “I remember being on the other side of the night that David Robinson got the MVP and we had to play [Hakeem] Olajuwon. I was on that Spurs team. That did not go well for us. Tonight, you felt like that was Joel. He was that magnificent.”
There are two big questions looming over the Sixers as the series moves to Atlanta. Can they get more from their bench? Can Embiid stay healthy?
They seem to have found the answer to the Trae Young riddle, with Ben Simmons using his length to disrupt Young’s flow as the Sixers raced out to an 18-point first-quarter lead. Now, they’ll need to get more of the effort they saw from their reserves in their fourth extended shift of the series, as opposed to the first three. Maybe Shake Milton can continue to be the scoring spark the Sixers had previously been unable to find. Before he scored the first of his 14 points in Game 2, the bench had been outscored, 32-0.
However the second unit shakes out, the Sixers should be fine if they continue to have Embiid. By the time Game 2 was over, no amount of rational deliberation could overcome a single irrational thought. If Embiid is not the NBA’s MVP, then the award itself is wrong.