Joel Embiid has been consistently rude to one person in his postgame press conferences this series. That man: Joel Embiid. He has been tougher on himself than anyone in the press.
"I didn't think I was very good tonight,” he said after Tuesday's 115-103 win over the Celtics. ”I did miss a lot of easy ones that I usually make.” He had 33 points.
"I was terrible tonight,” Embiid said after Game 4, a 116-115 Sixers OT win. “I got to be better. I will be better.” He scored 34.
"I got to be better,” he said after a 114-102 loss in Game 3. “We all got to be better.” He had 30 points.
Joel was a little easier on Joel after Game 2, his first game back after missing two with a knee injury, only talking broadly about how the team had to be better. He had 15 points in a 121-87 Sixers loss. But he has consistently trashed himself after games against the Celtics this year. “We found so many ways to try to lose a game tonight,” he said after a game in April. “That’s on all of us. I’m part of it. I could’ve been better. I had a couple of dumb plays.” The Sixers had allowed the Celtics, down seven with 9.6 seconds left, a shot at the win at the buzzer. But Joel did score 52 points in the 103-101 win.
Embiid could’ve laid off himself for once after Tuesday’s game. He was the most complete he’s been all season in the win in Boston. Now the Sixers lead the Eastern Conference semifinal series 3-2, and can win it in Game 6 at home.
But since Joel Embiid encourages it, I can nitpick him as well. Embiid is shooting 30.8 percent on wide-open three-pointers in seven playoff games. On Tuesday Embiid scored 10 of his points from the line—he’s 40-46 on free throws this series—but the Sixers' seven-foot center did not go inside much. Only four of his 23 shots were within 10 feet of the basket; he hit just one of them. Thirteen were jumpers; he hit eight of them, but he missed four of seven shots where he was wide open according to NBA tracking.
And he’s had some of the “dumb plays” that he talked about after the Sixers’ regular season win over Boston. But the crucial thing in Game 5 is that he seemed to recover from most of them. The whole team did. The Sixers coughed up a big lead in Game 4; in this game the Sixers got a big lead and never quite let Boston back into it. And now Joel Embiid’s Sixers are one win away from finally getting past the second round. Maybe he’ll say something nice about himself if they win Thursday.