The Philadelphia 76ers were a trendy upset pick in the first round of the playoffs.
Joel Embiid and company have made sure that has not happened so far.
Tyrese Maxey had garnered most of the headlines through the first two games, but the MVP finalist Embiid stole the show in Game 3.
After a sluggish first half, he dominated in the second half and overtime.
Exploding for 28 points that was capped with a game-winning three with 0.7 seconds left on the clock.
JOEL EMBIID WITH THE HUGE THREE IN OT 😱 pic.twitter.com/VKpdy4HszF
— ESPN (@espn) April 21, 2022
He has had a strong start for the encore to his historic regular season.
Embiid is averaging 27.7 points and 13 rebounds per game while building a 3-0 series lead.
Against an undersized Toronto Raptors team, he is wielding his size advantage effectively, taking 34 free throws.
Competition for the MVP this year was fierce, but Embiid is proving he should be this year’s winner.
Embiid Not Backing Down
Toronto has been a thorn in Embiid’s side for most of his career.
Nick Nurse’s aggressive defensive scheme against “The Process” has caused him to struggle.
Through 17 career regular-season games against the Raptors, Embiid is averaging 21.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game.
Those 21.3 points per game have come on 42.2% shooting from the field, 26.8% from three, and 80.9% at the line.
All the numbers listed above are below his career averages (26.0/11.4/3.3 – 49.0%/33.8%/81.0%).
Hard double and triple-teams have forced Embiid to make quick decisions with the ball, an aspect of his game he struggled with as a younger player.
There was also the infamous 2019 second-round series against Toronto.
Embiid averaged a measly 17.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on 37% shooting.
He was still highly effective (as evidenced by his +89 in 237 minutes) but did not do enough to win.
After a gut-wrenching playoff loss in Toronto 3 years ago… Joel Embiid returns hungrier than ever.@sixers. @Raptors. Game 3 tonight on NBA TV. pic.twitter.com/jnqvpjTkcE
— NBA (@NBA) April 20, 2022
This time around, Embiid seems better prepared.
He has worked on his game since those 2019 playoffs to be better equipped to handle the added pressure.
He has also made sure he is the aggressor – not the Raptors.
When the double (or triple) team comes at Joel, he has assessed the situation and made the correct read.
Or, he has simply attacked the defense before the double-team can get to him.
After a hesitant Game 1, Toronto seemed set on being even more aggressive against Embiid.
While in the past it may have gotten him off his game, he handled it better this time around.
Minus an early technical after some shoving with OG Anunoby, Embiid kept his emotions in check and harnessed his aggression.
Embiid is clearly not backing down to anybody this postseason, exactly as an MVP should.
Some teams and players will occasionally try to cakewalk their way through the first round.
They earn the higher seed and expect home-court advantage to be enough to get them through.
Embiid seems fully engaged to start this postseason, on both ends of the court.
Game 1 was a rough showing for the Sixers’ big man offensively.
He scored 19 points on 5-15 shooting, including 0-2 from three.
But he impacted the game in other ways.
He got to the line 11 times and sank nine of them.
He pulled down 15 boards.
And he dished out four assists while turning the ball over zero (0) times.
For a player who averages greater than four turnovers per game against Toronto in his career, that was huge.
The team with the best player often wins the series unless the difference of the rosters is tilted dramatically in the other direction.
“And in this series, it obviously has not been.”@ekoreen on the Raptors’ issue against the Sixers ⤵️ https://t.co/CIEZCmLC1c
— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) April 20, 2022
Embiid also seemed more active on the defensive end.
He provided his usual rim protection but was effective on switches.
He did a good job at staying in front of smaller guards and wings when the Sixers went away from their typical drop coverage.
His size and ability to move his feet also helped neutralize Pascal Siakam when he drew that assignment.
Embiid’s dominance on both ends of the court this series has proven he deserves the 2022 MVP.