A Rusty Joel Embiid Is Better Than No Joel Embiid for Sixers

Players that miss a week of basketball rarely come out and carry their team.

Joel Embiid is not a normal basketball player. He may not even be human.

He was definitely otherworldly Thursday night, posting his second career triple-double in a 128-122 loss to the Bucks at the Wells Fargo Center.

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While Embiid was rusty at the start and the game ended on a sour note, you were reminded of how special the All-Star center is.

When you think that he hasn't been with us for eight days, you look at his stat line, it just confirms how dominant he can be," Brett Brown said. "I think the thing that we feel is we just haven't been playing with each other - you feel uncertain a little bit, a little bit discombobulated at the end when it mattered. I think in general, statistically look at what he did - it's eye-popping.

The shooting numbers weren't great. Embiid went 12 of 31 from the field and 3 of 9 from three, but scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter. He recorded his 57th double-double of the season by pulling down 13 rebounds. He was stellar on defense yet again, blocking three shots and getting two steals.

But what probably stood out more than anything was his career-high 13 assists. To put in perspective how special that stat line is, only three players in NBA history have had at least 34 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists and three blocks in a game: Embiid, LeBron James and Magic Johnson.

For as great Embiid has been this season, how he's handled double teams has been an issue at times. On Thursday, he was excellent recognizing the doubles and making quick decisions. His teammates rewarded him by hitting 18 of 36 from three.

You want your best player to be healthy and in a rhythm," JJ Redick, who went 10 of 15 for 29 points, said. "Obviously, not playing for a week, at times he looked a little rusty. He still had a monster game because he's one of the five best players in the world.

Embiid's health is obviously paramount, but think about what he was able to do. He didn't play a game for a week, then stepped into a playoff-like atmosphere against the team with the best record in the NBA and nearly carried his team to a win.

It's fair to point out that both teams came into this one undermanned. The Sixers were missing Jimmy Butler and James Ennis who's dealing with a right quad contusion that will keep him out at least two weeks. The Bucks didn't have Malcolm Brogdon or Nikola Mirotic, among others.

Embiid made Milwaukee even more shorthanded less than three minutes into the game. Embiid and guard Eric Bledsoe were jostling for position on a shot. After the shot went in, Bledsoe gave Embiid an extra shove. Embiid took exception to it and tossed the ball at Bledsoe who in turn threw his best fastball at Embiid. Mike Scott jumped and all hell broke loose.

When it was over, Embiid and Scott each got a technical while Bledsoe was tossed. You'll recall Marcus Smart getting thrown out for shoving Embiid the last time the Sixers played the Celtics. It's become a point of pride.

I was just thinking that I'm pretty good at what I do. This is the second time I get one of the key guys from the other team thrown out so I was pretty excited about it.

Embiid has played 63 games this season, matching last year's total. The Sixers have just three games left. The team finds themselves in a tough spot, balancing Embiid's health with securing the third seed and growing chemistry with the team's new starting five.

With the Sixers twice playing a Bulls team that looks like a G-League team, they should be able to wrap up the third seed without Embiid. Developing that chemistry is probably unrealistic at this point, but Embiid isn't concerned about that.

"I'm not worried," Embiid said. "We're going into the playoffs, we've only played really 10 games together and we've got so much talent that we're just going to have to rely on our talent. I feel like we already understand each other really well. We all have a great relationship and that helps a lot on the court so I don't really see any problems. 

"Everything changes in the playoffs. Players got to make plays. It's based on talent and we are going to be fine."

As long as Embiid is able to be the player he was Thursday, the Sixers should be just fine.

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