Philadelphia 76ers star center Joel Embiid is feeling a little bit more like himself after missing 11 of 12 games with a knee injury.
On Tuesday night, he put up a clinical showing against the Boston Celtics, dropping 35 points with six rebounds in a 10-point victory.
“I’m not all the way there, but tonight was a big step,” Embiid said after the Sixers’ win. “Especially going from the Minnesota game… I felt better but I still have a long way to go to get to where I was before I got hurt.”
That included on the defensive end.
“I’m usually critical about myself but tonight I thought I was great,” he said. “My goal one of these days is to win defensive player of the year and be on All-NBA defensive teams. I was definitely better than I was against Minnesota, but I still have a long way to go.”
Embiid’s return on Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves left plenty to be desired after he shot 6-of-14 from the field and 12-of-17 from the free-throw line for 24 points.
He was much better on Tuesday, going 9-of-19 from the floor while sinking 16 of 20 free throws as the Sixers swept the season series from the team that swept them out of the postseason bubble last year — something that meant a lot to Embiid.
“It’s not just about what happened in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “You want to win this matchup, you want to play well against them and win all these games. This year hasn’t been different. We’ve won those three games, but that’s the mindset you have to have against every team.
“They have a great team, a lot of great talent, great coaching, those are the games you really want to win. Especially because I’ve been here for so long and that’s a rivalry that’s very important for me and the city of Philadelphia.”
His play alongside Ben Simmons only helped as the pick-and-roll showed some life in the victory; though the partnership remains fruitful.
“We had some success,” Embiid said of his work alongside Simmons. “We had a lot of success in the past. There’s a lot of options that can come out of it. I can always go for a lob. If he’s not open, just set the screen and he can drive in and attack. The last resort is if he doesn’t have anything, that type of play is always going to cause a mismatch… and give me an easy way to score.”
Regardless of how he fared alongside the star point guard, the Celtics simply had no answer for the center, regardless of who they threw toward him with Tristan Thompson out. He made relatively easy work of Robert Williams and Luke Kornet.
“It doesn’t matter who’s in front of me,” he said. “As we’ve seen all season, it doesn’t really matter who’s been in front of me. I just attack every single game. I want to be aggressive. I want to get the other bigs in foul trouble, I want to get to the bonus early… If they play physical, I use that to my advantage to get to the free-throw line. That’s a skill, a lot of people call it flopping.”