Joel Embiid’s MVP case continues to build, but late-game offense haunts Sixers as streak ends

The Philadelphia 76ers have moved up in the Eastern Conference with eight straight wins, but the streak, despite a 48-point performance from Joel Embiid, ended with a 116-111 loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

It was Embiid’s sixth 40-point game of the season and 32nd of his career, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain for the second-most such output in franchise history, behind only Allen Iverson. Embiid has a long way to go to catch AI, who totaled 76 40-point games in a Sixers uniform.

The MVP race is super crowded at the top right now, and Embiid, who has finished second to Nikola Jokic each of the last two years, is right there in the mix again. He leads the league in scoring at over 33 per night. He is top five in PER and the anchor of what has been a top five defense. This game is just another point on the ever-growing MVP resume.

James Harden, who came in after combining for 34 assists in his previous two games, had another strong outing with 26 points and 13 assists, but there wasn’t much support from the role players. De’Anthony Melton, who has been superb over the past month, finished with just six points. Georges Niang, who has been a consistent 3-point shooter all season (43 percent), went just 1 of 7 from deep.

As a team, the Sixers, who register as one of the most accurate 3-point shooting teams in the league this season, made just six of 31 3s in Washington. After trailing by as many as 16 in the third quarter, the Sixers cut the deficit all the way to one, but ultimately managed just six points over the final five minutes — and three of those came courtesy of a last gasp. 3 by Embiid when the Sixers were down six with six seconds left.

Philadelphia’s late-game offense has been a problem all season. In clutch minutes, categorized as a game within five points over the final five minutes, the Sixers entered Tuesday night with the 24th-ranked offense in the league. Their defense has been solid in those minutes with the third-best defensive rating, and that was true again on Tuesday when Philly allowed Washington just one field goal over the final five minutes. The wizards couldn’t generate quality looks down the stretch.

But neither could the Sixers, and that includes Embiid, who had a pair of costly turnovers and a missed free throw on high-impact possessions. Tyrese Maxey will help in those situations as a point guard/shooter against defenses forced to shift out of the two-man game between Harden and Embiid, but that doesn’t quell all concern. Any Harden offense is always on the verge of stagnation. Doc Rivers hasn’t exactly proven to be the most creative offensive architect. And that devolve-to-iso’s DNA is always a threat that appears at the wrong time.

There are big pictures. For now, this is just one loss. No one is going to be upset. But it should be noted that the Sixers’ streak didn’t exactly come against the toughest competition. Five of the wins came against sub-.500 opponents: Pistons, Raptors, Warriors (absent the services of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins), Hornets and Lakers. Two of the other three were against the Knicks and Kings. The best win was against the Clippers with both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the lineup.

Do what you want. The Sixers should be considered among the least second-team contenders in the East, but there is context to even this latest success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *