Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid Disappointed With 2nd Place MVP Finish But Focused On Winning NBA Title
Several times on Tuesday night during the Philadelphia 76ers’ 118-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, the crowd at Wells Fargo Center greeted 76ers center Joel Embiid with “MVP” chants, just like they have done for the past several weeks since local officials allowed fans to attend games again.
The shouting came on the same night that Embiid found out he finished second in the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award voting behind Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. After the win, which tied the Eastern Conference semifinals series at one game apiece, Embiid admitted he would have liked to have been named MVP, but his main goal is helping the 76ers win their first title since 1983.
“It’s disappointing because as a player you work hard for moments like this,” Embiid said. “But then again, it’s out of my control. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
He added: “I’m focused on the playoffs. I’m focused on winning the championship. Like I’ve been saying all season, we’ve got a good chance, so I’m not worried about those awards and stuff. If and when I’m holding that (NBA championship) trophy, anything else won’t matter.”
On Tuesday night, Embiid finished with a game-high 40 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes despite being listed as questionable heading into the game and playing with a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. He had sustained the injury eight days earlier in Game 4 of the first round series against the Washington Wizards. He sat out the next game before returning for Game 1 against the Hawks and scoring 39 points, although the 76ers lost, 128-124.
Embiid wasn’t the only reason the 76ers won on Tuesday night. They also benefited from committing only seven turnovers, including one in the second half. And their bench players, who didn’t score at all in the first half, had 26 points in the second half, led by Shake Milton’s 14. Still, without Embiid, the 76ers would have been down two games to none and in an unenviable position heading into Friday’s Game 3 in Atlanta.
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“He’s been our anchor all year, the guy we count on for a lot of stuff on offense and defense,” said 76ers guard Seth Curry, who had 21 points on Tuesday, connecting on 8 of 13 field goals and 5 of 6 3-pointers. “There comes a time in the season where you’ve got to play through injuries. He’s doing just that. We follow his lead out there on the court, especially here at home. He gives us an extra boost whenever he walks out there and he’s playing hard.”
Considering the stakes and injury, Embiid’s most recent performances are even more impressive than what he did during the regular season when he averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, shot 51.3% from the floor and 85.9% on free throws. Jokic, meanwhile, averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game and shot 56.6% from the floor and 86.8% from the floor. Jokic also played in all 72 regular season games, while Embiid missed 21 games due to injuries.
Jokic received 91 of the 100 first place votes for MVP, which is determined by media members, and had a total of 971 points. Embiid only received one first place vote but had 62 second place votes to finish with 586 total points, 133 more points than Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who came in third.
“People around me, my teammates, they believed that I should be (the MVP) and that I am,” Embiid said. “You can say that’s good enough. I care more about who I’m around, You guys make those (MVP) decisions, and I can’t control it. But like I said, that’s not what I’m focused on. I haven’t really thought about it for the second half of the season. I just wanted to get ready for this moment which is the playoffs, to go on this run, to try to win a championship.”
76ers coach Doc Rivers recalled during the 1995 playoffs when he was a member of the San Antonio Spurs and teammate David Robinson was named MVP during the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets. Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets center who finished fifth in the MVP voting, then dominated the series, averaging 35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per game in leading Houston to the six-game series victory.
“Tonight you felt like that was Joel,” Rivers said. “He was that magnificent, dominant for us early on. But it was absolutely a team effort. He set the tone for us. That’s what he has to do, obviously.”