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NBA

Embiid shot at Harden: “He’s not the player he was at Houston”

Sixers center Joel Embiid wasn’t too flattering about Harden but praised Jimmy Butler: “I still don’t know why we let him go”.

Update:
El pívot de los Sixers, Joel Embiid, no habló bien de Harden en fuera de prensa y alabó a Jimmy Butler: "Todavía no sé por qué le dejamos marchar".
Tim NwachukwuAFP

On this occasion, you couldn’t fault Joel Embiid. The center gave everything, fighting against all the odds and played four playoffs games with a fractured eye socket and torn thumb ligament. He was forced to wear a protective face mask which made breathing difficult and kept slipping, obstructing his vision. The Cameroonian had had his fair share of suffering to deal with, his presence in attack has been minimal - he’s stayed on the fringes and his intimidation powers while important for the team, have diminished.

Embiid’s return turned the series around - from being 2-0 down, the Sixers levelled it at 2-2, sowing seeds of doubt into Miami. The Heat are back ahead but the just the presence of the iconic center, who was second in the MVP voting for the second year running (both times losing out to Nikola Jokic), was enough to keep the tie in the balance. During the regular season, he averaged 30.6 points (leader in the NBA), 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists, as well as posting 46 double-doubles. In the first round against the Raptors he finished on 26.2+11.3 before being struck in the face by Pascal Siakam’s elbow. In the first games of the semi-final series, he has registered 18+11, a 24+11, a discreet 17+5 in the game in which he took another involuntary blow - this time from Dwayne Dedmon and in Game 6, 20+12 with a disappointing 7 on 24 from the field.

Shake Milton (R) and Joel Embiid (L) in action against Miami Heat. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Shake Milton (R) and Joel Embiid (L) in action against Miami Heat. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)Anadolu AgencyGetty

Embiid obviously feels satisfied with how he has performed in spite of shying away from contact for fear of aggravating his injury or not going for rebounds which is understandable. He has spoken openly in his dealings with the media, voicing his thoughts on the project, a series which is hanging by a thread and his unhappiness about Jimmy Butler’s departure in 2019: “It’s tough. But I’m so proud of him. He’s playing at an unreal level right now. He’s something else right now. And I’m proud of him for being at this level and carrying them and what he’s been able to do. I still don’t know how we let him go, I’m happy for him. I won’t sit here and say I didn’t wish he was my team mate. But I wish I could have gone to battle with him still. But it is what it is. Just gotta keep building and keep trying to reach that goal”. That year, the Sixers lost the seventh game in Toronto with Kawhi Leonard’s famous shot. It was the closest he has come to the Conference finals - and the franchise’s since 2001. But instead of fighting to keep Butler, the front office re-signed Tobias Harris on a five-year deal. Harris is a good player, but maybe not quite good enough to merit an $180 million contract over five seasons.

“Maybe we’re just not good enough”

Apart from getting nostalgic about Butler, Embiid also spoke about his present team mates - James Harden in particular. His trade deal for Ben Simmons was controversial at the time and it hasn’t been working out for him with the Heat during the series. Just six attempted shots in the sixth game (0 points in the second half) and a season which overall has been quite poor. He suffered a similar situation (or provoked, depending on who you believe), with the Rockets.

Embiid explained, “I don’t know. Obviously, I’m sure that since we got him, everybody expected the ‘Houston’ James Harden but that’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a playmaker. At times, I thought, you know, he could have been, as all of us could have been more aggressive. I’m not just talking about offensively, I’m talking about as a whole”. Although he was asked about Harden and tried to give an honest reply, his team mate has not received the support he expected in Philadelphia and his contribution has been less than they had hoped for. But it looks like the Embiid-Harden-Doc Rivers association won’t be repeated next season. One of the three could leave, and the multi-million dollar contract extension that Harden is asking for (47 million next year before he will be on free agency) won’t help them to gel.

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