‘Worst Player in Basketball’: Joel Embiid Leads Sixers Over Heat

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid

Getty Heat forward Jimmy Butler guards Sixers center Joel Embiid during a game in Miami on January 15, 2022.

The things Joel Embiid has been doing on the basketball court these days has been superhuman. The Philadelphia 76ers big man dropped 32 points and grabbed 12 rebounds on Saturday night during a 109-98 road win over the Miami Heat. He was dominating. Again.

Embiid has scored at least 30 points in 10 straight away games to join James Harden and Tracy McGrady as the only players to do that over the last 18 years. Harden did it during his 2018 MVP campaign, an important note that should bode well in Embiid’s own quest for the award. His stat line over the past 30 days: 31.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while shooting 53.7% from the field. He’s been unstoppable. And the Sixers are 9-1 since December 26.

So it was funny to hear Embiid criticize himself in his post-game interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Kate Scott. The 7-footer was more focused on his terrible first half – 3-of-11 shooting for seven points – than his Herculean second half. Embiid was surprisingly getting out-played by Heat rookie Omer Yurtseven and that didn’t sit well.

“Man, I was the worst player in basketball in that first half. I mean, it was bad. I couldn’t believe it,” Embiid told Scott. “But, anyway, my elbow played a huge part of it, too. I mean, it was really painful so I just told myself in the second half to not think about and just go out and do your thing. But it wasn’t about me, the guys on the floor – Tobias [Harris], Seth [Curry], [Tyrese] Maxey – everybody showed up playing great defense and knocking down big shots.”

Embiid had been listed as questionable prior to Saturday night’s tip-off due to elbow soreness. Shake Milton (back contusion), Danny Green (hip), Matisse Thybulle (shoulder) all missed the Heat game.

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Harris, Curry Pick Up Slack in First Half

Embiid wasn’t joking about being the worst player in basketball during the first half. Thankfully, Tobias Harris saved the day. The newest boo victim in Philly scored a team-high 15 points while going 3-for-3 from three-point land prior to halftime. He finished with 22 points and eight rebounds for a +19. The Sixers needed all 42 of his scrappy minutes, too.

Seth Curry was equally impressive, especially in the third quarter. He tallied 11 points in the frame, including three big triples along with a 26-footer in the final seconds. Curry ended the game with 21 points and five assists for a +13. Tyrese Maxey added 13 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.

Jimmy Butler Praises Ex-Teammate Embiid

Jimmy Butler and Embiid were teammates for a fruitful half-season in Philly, one that fell one Kawhi Leonard bounce away from possibly extending further into the playoffs. They struck up a quick and lasting friendship over those 55 games so it was no surprise to see Butler head right to the Sixers’ bench to dap up Embiid before the game.

The Heat forward also spent some time guarding Embiid in the fourth quarter when Miami went to a smaller lineup. As great as Yurteven was offensively, he couldn’t stop the All-Star center down the stretch. After the game, Butler shouted out his old buddy and explained how he impacted the outcome.

“Score, rebound, force extra help,” Butler said of what Embiid did well. “Be the dominant player that he’s been for a very long time. He did that.”

Remember, there had been reports that Embiid wanted Butler to return for the 2019-20 season but the chemistry with Ben Simmons wasn’t there. Instead, the Sixers sided with Simmons and Butler went to South Beach. Never forget.

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