Emerging Sixers boast beast of the East
|Toronto Star 21 Mar 2019 at 15:37|
Joel Embiid does not lack self-confidence, and with the way he and his Philadelphia 76ers are going these days his boastful manner is entirely understandable.
Making the same kind of late-season surge they did a year ago, the Sixers have won six straight games — the longest current streak in the NBA — and are cruising toward the playoffs.
The Sixers’ Joel Embiid had his way with the Celtics’ defence on Wednesday, finishing with 37 points, 22 rebounds ... and a win. (Jesse D. Garrabrant / Getty Images)
One of the more impressive facts about the streak is that Philadelphia went into Milwaukee and beat the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks on Sunday, then topped the Boston Celtics on Wednesday for the first time in four games between the teams this season.
It was after the Celtics game — in which he had 37 points, 22 rebounds and a key blocked shot in the final minute — that Embiid decided to toot his own horn a fair bit.
“First of all, I’m glad we got the win,” he said in a post-game, on-court television interview. “Second of all, this is why I’m the best defensive player in the league.
“And third of all, I’ve been hearing that these guys (the Celtics) can guard me better than anybody else, so I just had to come out and show I’m the most unstoppable player in the league.”
Now “best defensive player” and “most unstoppable player” are all-NBA level boasts, but with the way the Sixers and Embiid are going it’s not too far from being true.
Philadelphia’s gone 7-3 in its last 10 games and 7-1 when the starting unit of Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, J.J. Redick and Embiid are together. They’ve taken a near stranglehold on third place in the East behind the Bucks and Raptors. Only a pedestrian road record of 18-16 has kept them from seriously challenging for one of the top two spots — they’re four games behind Toronto with only 10 remaining — and they are serving notice they’ll be a tough playoff out.
With shortened post-season rotations mitigating Philadelphia’s distinct lack of depth, if they can ride those five starters for extended minutes in each game, they will be formidable.
“We got some true talent in the starting lineup,” Butler said after Wednesday’s game. “I think, when you look down the line, we have a group of guys that can do something special if we’re out there on the same page, we’re all playing hard and we’re all competing.”
Wednesday’s win basically settled Philadelphia into third in the East and sets up the juicy possibility of a Raptors-76ers second-round playoff series. Of course, each team will have to get past the first round — the Sixers likely against Detroit, the Raptors probably against either Brooklyn or Miami — but a second-round collision would be intriguing.
The Celtics, meanwhile, are trending in the opposite direction. They lost two straight, while centre Aron Baynes was injured Wednesday and he’s not expected to be back before the playoffs. Gordon Hayward is also dealing with concussion issues and the Celtics can’t climb out of fifth in the East.
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