PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid had a terrible triple-double Thursday night.
Yeah, that’s right, It was terrible for a few reasons, and it is one of the reasons why the Philadelphia 76ers are a shaky team and coach Brett Browen is on shaky ground as we move one day closer to the start of the NBA playoffs.
Forget, for a moment, that Embiid’s 34 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists had Brown calling him one of the “top five” players in the world. And consider this: Midway through the first quarter when Embiid was 0-for-5 from 3-point range and was getting ready to chuck up another, there was an audible “nooooo” from the sellout crowd of 20,701 watching two of the top three teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference go at each other.
Consider that the Sixers were up five with 2:54 left and were down 8 with 16.2 seconds left. That right there is a telltale sign of a team not ready for championship contender status, especially when that blown lead happened at home.
In the final 84 seconds, Embiid’s mental mistakes played a huge role in a tie game turning into a relatively comfortable win for the Milwaukee Bucks behind MVP shoo-in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 45 points. With the Sixers down 2 as the clock ticked inside the final minute, Embiid’s layup was swatted away by Giannis. Embiid got the ball back but lofted a soift, lazy pass that was easily tipped by Brook Lopez, leading to a breakaway uncontested layup by Sterling Brown (Giannis got the assist). Embiid then missed his final attempt of the night — a 3-point attempt that was his ninth from behind the arc, and Meek Mill headed for the exit along with thousands of others.
Want to see and hear a mixed message? Check out Coach Brown in the postgame press conference:
That is a coach making every effort to see the glass as half-full, and Brown may have a valid point. Jimmy Butler sat out with back soreness, meaning the Sixers are still stuck on 10 games played with the starting lineup they hope to open the playoffs with. Brown has said that it feels as though he has been coaching three different teams over the course of the season as Elton Brand has made constant changes to the roster, which is a valid point.
But Embiid is still the centerpiece of this team, and his decision-making deficiencies are a deterrent from him becoming a Top 3 player in the league.
One piece of bait he wouldn’t take was a question about whether Giannis is in the same class (hated by Embiid) as Russell Westbrook and Andre Drummond.
The bottom line for this Sixers team is this: If they don’t get out of the first round, Brett Brown will be fired before he gets to the team bus. If they don’t get out of the second round (barring a major injury), Brown might make it to the bus but won’t last a day longer.
The chemistry issues between the coach and some of the players is the big unknown that will make or break their playoff chances. General manager Elton Brand did not deal away half of his roster in order to bring in Butler and Tobias Harris and have this thing go down in flames.
And let’s not get carried away, because this is still the winddown of the regular season and everybody starts 0-0 next weekend.
But the Sixers are a long way from playing championship-caliber ball, and no triple-double stat line that will excite the roto freaks and the analytic geeks is going to make them better. Only Brown can pull that off by pulling the team together.
And if he fails, it would not be surprising to see Harris, J.J. Redick and Butler bail out.