The NBA might want to put a huge asterisk on the 2021 MVP award. Nikola Jokic has won the league’s top honor despite a hard, injury-riddled charge from Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid.
Embiid averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game during a historic season. However, the four-time All-Star couldn’t stay off the injury report and his 21-game absence ultimately hurt his candidacy. He finished second in MVP voting to Jokic as Sixers fans (plus Embiid’s trainer) rushed to Embiid’s defense on Twitter.
Head coach Doc Rivers was asked if he felt the 7-footer got robbed of the award prior to tip-off in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Embiid was listed as questionable for that contest due to a torn meniscus in his right knee.
“Listen, there’s a lot of great candidates, you know, between Jokic and Joel. I think it was a two-man race,” Rivers told reporters. “I guess you can say Steph [Curry] was thrown in there at the end the way he made a charge. There are just so many great players in our league.
“I do feel the deciding factor was probably games played, I think that helped for sure. But even if they had both played a lot of games, it still would have been a very difficult choice. I obviously was hoping for our guy but you can’t take anything away from Jokic.”
Rivers’ point was a valid one considering Jokic played all 72 games for the Denver Nuggets. He was a triple-double threat every single night: 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists per game. He becomes the first center to win MVP since Shaquille O’Neal claimed the award in 2000. Now Embiid will have to set his sights on winning NBA Finals MVP.
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Need to Limit Turnovers vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Sixers committed 19 turnovers during their Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, including coughing the ball up nine times in the first quarter. It was the biggest reason why the team got down so big so early as Atlanta swelled its lead to 26 points at one point. Rivers went back and watched the tape where he saw an undisciplined play and a lack of mental focus.
“When you are playing a team that is a really good offensive team [like Atlanta], and you are going to give them that many more offensive possessions, you’re asking for trouble, and trouble happened,” Rivers said. “A lot of them were just unforced, a lot of them were guys just trying to do too much with the ball. Give Atlanta some credit. They created some of the turnovers as well and so we just have to be better with the ball.”
Figuring Out How to Stop Trae Young
Hawks star Trae Young was simply unguardable in the series opener. He scored 35 points in 39 minutes while connecting on four 3-pointers. The 22-year-old is averaging 30.2 points and 9.8 assists per game in six postseason contests.
The Sixers threw the kitchen sink at him and tried to trap him in the second half. Nothing worked. Danny Green was the primary defender in Game 1 and talked about how tough of a matchup that Young is on the floor.
“It’s a challenge all over with him. He’s a great player,” Green said. “He’s obviously figured it out. We have our hands with me, Matisse [Thybulle], Ben [Simmons], George [Hill], everyone that is going to be guarding him at some point. It’s not an individual effort to guard him. That’s why he’s a superstar, that’s why he’s an All-Star.”