Joel Embiid is only worried about the things he can control. While another sold-out crowd at Wells Fargo Center rained down MVP chants at the 7-footer, Embiid let his play on the court speak for not winning NBA MVP honors in 2021. He scored 40 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as the Sixers beat the Hawks 118-102 to tie their best-of-seven playoff series.
The league announced that Nikola Jokic was the MVP about 15 minutes prior to tip-off in Game 2. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers didn’t know for sure if Embiid was extra motivated to dominate and show voters the error of their ways. However, Rivers did recall a similar thing happening during his playing career when David Robinson beat out Hakeem Olajuwon for the top award in 1995.
“I don’t know if the MVP thing did anything to him or not,” Rivers told reporters. “I remember being on the other side of the night that David Robinson got the MVP and we had to play Olajuwon. I was on the Spurs team, that didn’t go well for us. Tonight, I felt like that was Joel. He was that magnificent and dominant for us early on, but it was absolutely a team effort. I thought he set the tone for us, and that’s what he has to do obviously.”
Embiid admitted that he had given up on winning MVP after a knee injury sidelined him for 21 games. After his virtuoso performance in Game 2, the four-time All-Star reiterated that he has much bigger goals like winning the championship. Plus, Embiid knows his teammates think he’s the MVP which means more to him than any media-driven hardware.
“If people around me are calling me MVP and my teammates believe that I should be it, that I am [MVP], I guess you could say that’s good enough,” Embiid told reporters. “You guys [the media] make those decisions and I can’t control it but like I said, that’s not what I’m focused on. I haven’t really thought about it for the second half of the season. I really wanted to get ready for this moment which is the playoffs, to get ready for this run and win the championship.”
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Embiid Shooting for NBA Finals MVP
The Sixers want to be the last men standing at the end of the postseason tournament. That has been their stated goal from the first day of training camp. Embiid may have missed out on regular-season MVP honors but no one would be shocked if the big man is holding the Bill Russell Award next month.
“We get to the Finals, and that’s the goal for our team, and he goes and gets the MVP there,” Sixers forward Tobias Harris said. “That’s our mentality. We don’t really focus on those other things, not at this point.”
When Harris’ comments were relayed to Embiid by reporters in the post-game Zoom call, he stuck to the script and reminded everyone that the Sixers haven’t done anything yet. They have to win three more games to beat Atlanta, then eight more games to win the championship. Nothing else matters.
“I’m focused on winning the championship. Like I’ve been saying all season, we have a good chance,” Embiid said. “So I’m not worried about those awards and stuff. If and when I’m holding that trophy you know anything else won’t matter.”
Shake Milton Provides Huge Lift Off Bench
Shake Milton may have had an even bigger night than Embiid on Tuesday. He scored 14 points in 14 minutes off the bench, including four timely three-pointers that swung the momentum back to the Sixers after they lost a big lead. More importantly, Milton’s stellar play allowed Rivers to keep Embiid and Simmons on the bench a little longer to rest.
“For some reason, I felt like he was going to be needed so before the game I told him to get ready,” Embiid said. “I love all these guys. I want to win it all and I’m going to need them to do so.”
Added Harris: “It was huge for us. I’m extremely happy and proud at the same time. It really showed what the playoffs are about.”