TThe Philadelphia 76ers’ chances of winning their first NBA title in 39 years plummeted dramatically on Tuesday when the Miami Heat lost them in Game 5 of the second-round series. Sixers need to beat Heat two in a row just to stay alive.
Then the Sixers would need to win eight more matches over two series to claim the title. That doesn’t seem likely, given the way they wobbled in the dismal 35-point loss for Miami, even with Joel Embiid, the superstar having the best season of his career.
Word was leaked on Monday via ESPN that Embiid had lost to Denver’s Nikola Jokic for the second year in a row in the vote for the NBA Player of the Year award, and Embiid tried to shake off the rejection by saying he really would prefer to win a title. And after…
“I wonder what else I would have to do to win the title, and for me it’s like, at this point, anything,” Embiid said in a news conference after Tuesday’s game. It’s all about focus, not that I haven’t focused on the bigger picture, but You know, it’s really time to put all my energy into the bigger picture, which is winning it all.”
It should come as no surprise that Philadelphia sports fans haven’t taken the leaked news well, no less since the award was handed out on Wednesday night. Despite Jokić’s impressive season, this appears, to them, to be the latest example of the Most Valuable Player Trophy not won by the Most Valuable Player.
“Jokic is an unrivaled offensive player,” columnist Marcus Hayes, a far cry from Homer, wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday. “He’s a better passer than Embiid. Embiid is close – more power, better moves in the basket, better in transition. Defensively, the chasm is huge. Which means, on the whole, Embiid is better. He does things that Jokic can’t do. …he’s a mix of Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Dirk Nowitzki. Jokic is Larry Bird, two inches plus 50 pounds.”
Embiid does the simple things that don’t sell homes down the road. Consider this stat: The Sixers finished second in the league for home attendance, but 29th out of 30 teams in road attendance (the Bulls, Lakers, and Warriors were the top three).
The trophies that should be purely subjective – based on her intuition – have been dwarfed by the analytics, but, if you really have to, Jokić’s player efficiency rating of 32.94 was higher than that of 31.24 posted by Embiid, who also ranks behind Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee .
Jokic is credited with a higher value to his team, according to those stats, by leading the injury-ravaged Nuggets to an unexpected supplement berth, but Embiid had the second highest value while carrying the Sixers through an even more ridiculous farce, Ben Simmons’ dismissive.
Speculation has now emerged that the Brooklyn Nets, who were swallowed up – or rather convinced – to take Simmons from The Sixers in a massive deal in February, might trade Simmons, beleaguered by issues of character and personality, before even playing a single game for them.
“I don’t know if anyone could do more than he did this year,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said this week. “He played without the second best player all year.”
Embiid pushed the Sixers to 51 regular season victories, as did Boston and Milwaukee, without Simmons, who was furious that he was considered “second best.” Then The Sixers beat Toronto in four of the six playoffs before Embiid’s face literally broke.
With the Sixers ahead by 35 points and less than four minutes to play in the series finale against the Raptors, Embiid, who was already playing with torn ligaments in his thumb, was hit with his elbow by Pascal Siakam, breaking the bone around his right eye. He missed the first two games of the Miami series.
The Sixers lost both games. But then Embiid came back wearing a face mask that made him look like a cyborg. Philadelphia won the next two games. Then, for some inexplicable reason, the MVP news leaked out, becoming a topic that Embiid had to tackle on Tuesday.
“I’m not crazy,” Embiid said of not winning the MVP award, which is expected to be officially announced this week. “That’s two years in a row putting myself in this position. It didn’t happen. It’s almost, at this point, anything. Whatever happens, happens.”
The MVP award is voted on by a panel of news media, based on regular season performance. Definitely The NBA MVP was happy to be replaced by Maurice Podolof for Larry O’Brien’s Championship Trophy, and Embiid still had a shot at last Tuesday night.
Philadelphia hasn’t had much to cheer about since the Eagles won the Super Bowl over four years ago. The Phillies should have been better this year with the additions of Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, but they are already appearing dead in the water, uninjured by the Mets in one weekend and coughing up a lead in the ninth inning from six runs. Their division competes the next day.
The Flyers are looking for another coach after missing the playoffs for the sixth time in 10 seasons – a dismal streak that is now costing them old fans. Their average home attendance was the lowest this year since 1973, or two years before the last Stanley Cup. The Eagles seem to be getting better, but they will need a few years to reach the peak, if they do before.
Embiid, a native of Cameroon, simultaneously carried the sporting dreams of an entire working-class city. He started his NBA career very slowly, leg injuries costing him two seasons, but he made himself the darling of city fans by playing hard and playing often. The city celebrated when Embiid won his first NBA title this spring.
Siakam earned a permanent spot among Philadelphia’s sporting villains—they booed forever—by elbowing Embiid’s face. Many Sixers fans thought the elbow was intentional, as Embiid mocked the Toronto fans minutes earlier.
Everywhere you go in Philadelphia, you see T-shirts with “PHILA” on the front and Embiid #21 on the back. He’s made $31.58 million this season, but he’s become a champ, which is a rare honor. He looked rickety on Tuesday, but he’s been lifting a squad all season by blocking shots, taking fouls and attacking rebounds, the not-so-great but valuable stuff.