BOSTON — His legend only grows after games like this.
On Monday, the Boston Celtics again learned Joel Embiid can carry an NBA team while less than 100%. But they — and the sellout crowd of 19,156 inside TD Garden — also realized he may be among the best 76ers to play the game.
“I twisted my ankle a couple of games ago,” Embiid said. “It’s still not where it’s supposed to be. You gotta fight through it. Everybody is needed in these tough times...
“I like to challenge myself to see if I’m good enough to carry our guys to do my job offensively and mainly defensively.”
His 41 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals Monday pushed the Sixers to a 108-103 win over the Celtics. That served as an encore for his 32-point effort Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets.
This marked the third time this season Embiid has scored at least 41 points in a game and the seventh with 30 or more points. The Sixers (16-15) are 5-2 in those games.
And just like in his 43- and 32-point performances at the Charlotte Hornets earlier this month, Embiid refused to let the Sixers lose.
With Al Horford (COVID-19) and Robert Williams III (personal reasons) sidelined for Boston (15-16), Embiid didn’t have much resistance. But it’s hard to say if they would have made an impact once he found his groove.
“Joel’s fourth [quarter], that was epic right there,” Tobias Harris said, “just his dominance.”
Embiid scored all 17 of his fourth-quarter points in the final 5 minutes, 52 minutes. Danny Green’s three-pointer with 1:43 left gave the Sixers their first lead (99-98) since early in the third quarter. From there, Embiid scored Philly’s last nine points.
He followed up Green’s go-ahead basket with a 14-foot jumper, a 16-foot step-back jumper, and a 17-foot pull-up shot.
The four-time All-Star then split a pair of foul shots with 3.9 seconds left to give the Sixers a 106-103 advantage. Embiid then stole Marcus Smart’s long inbounds pass and was fouled. He sank a pair of foul shots with 2.5 seconds left to clinch the win.
“I got to do it every night right now,” Embiid said of putting the Sixers on his shoulders. “It’s tough because we have a bunch of guys out. And we haven’t been winning. That was one that we needed.”
The Sixers were without seven players due to injuries and COVID-19. The Celtics had eight players out.
Shake Milton, Andre Drummond, and Georges Niang were sidelined after being placed in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Meanwhile, Tyrese Maxey (left quadriceps contusion), Furkan Korkmaz (non-COVID illness), and Jaden Springer (concussion protocols) are also out, along with Ben Simmons, who has yet to play this season because he remains mentally unfit to compete for the Sixers. The three-time All-Star wants to be traded.
The mission for Embiid in most games is simple, even when they are without half the roster: take a chunk of the shots, score a chunk of the points, and elevate the Sixers in the Eastern Conference playoff race. And he was successful Monday, making 14 of 27 shots from the field. The win elevated Philly two spots up to sixth in the standings.
“He was awesome,” Doc Rivers said. “Took his shots. You know what we talk about with him every day: Make or miss. Just get our shots, get the shot you want. And I thought he did that.”