Wednesday night was surreal for many reasons. It’s easy to build things up just for it to blow up in your face. It’s easy to get excited looking forward to something only for it to come crashing down. Joel Embiid didn’t disappoint in his first ever NBA game.
The place was loud. The fans chanting “MVP” and “Let’s Go Process” which turned “Trust the Process,” as Embiid took free throw after free throw. And unlike packed 76ers games the last three years, people weren’t there to see Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or LeBron James. Fans were there to see the 76ers. A few people donned Russell Westbrook jerseys, but the overwhelming majority of people sported Philadelphia colors, and it was a beautiful thing to witness. CSN televised the game, along with ESPN, and it was the highest rated Sixer game on Comcast in five years, up 47 percent from last year’s season opener, according to CSN’s John Clark. For the first time since 2013, the 76ers played in front of a national audience. Even though the game only counted for one regular season win or loss, it felt more important.
It’s easy to root for Embiid. Marc Spears and Lee Jenkins each published an Embiid profile Wednesday, and both stories described Embiid the person. He wants to be great, he feeds off the crowd with the sense of urgency this city adores and his skill set separates him from current NBA centers. People doubted him from the beginning, and that doubt grew richer after his second surgery. Embiid, in nearly every way, is The Process. It’s only fair he coined it as his nickname. And it’s only fair he’s healthy, contributing in real basketball games.
The 76ers lost another game they led with less than six minutes to play, which was a major theme of last year. It was a bit disappointing head coach Brett Brown used a line-up of T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant and Jahlil Okafor for a stretch of the fourth quarter, just because that line-up, or a similar variation, was used down the stretch last season. And Philadelphia lost game after game in those final minutes. It was a slight criticism of Brown, but many gave him a pass because he coached roughly 14 point guards in three seasons, and never had a player who could bail him out if the defense sniffed out the play. Trailing by two, Gerald Henderson tried to draw a foul to tie the game, but he failed miserably. Everyone in the building wanted Embiid to take the shot, especially since he had previously tied the game with 50 seconds remaining.
Embiid scored in nearly every way for his 20 points: a turnaround jumper, a 3-pointer, power moves around the basket, a face-up jumper and free throws. It wasn’t a dominant performance, as Embiid missed 10 of 16 attempts, but Embiid did get the spots he wanted, and sometimes was just a little off on his touch. Embiid goofed up on one specific defensive possession that led to an easy Steven Adams dunk, but his most impressive play of the night might have happened on defense. Right after Embiid scored his first basket, he rejected Westbrook’s shot. Embiid only missed one of eight free throw attempts, and having a big man who commands double-teams AND makes free throws without much problem has to electrify Brown.
Trolls cannot tweet Embiid about sharing the same career stats, although they can tweet about both having zero assists. It doesn’t even matter that Ben Simmons is sidelined for the next two months or so, because Embiid’s here. He has the personality, he has the skill and he, finally, has the opportunity.
Featured Image: Charles Fox/ Philadelphia Inquirer
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