Joel Embiid grabbed the offensive rebound and guided the ball through the hoop for the Sixers' first basket of the game. He heard the official's whistle, raised his arms and, with a mischievous smile, soaked in the adoration of the Wells Fargo Center crowd. It seemed everything was back to normal - if it had ever not been.
In the Sixers' 110-103 win over the Clippers on Tuesday night, Embiid had 26 points and nine rebounds. The perpetual drama around Embiid's interactions with Sixers fans, though, was a prominent sideshow to the game itself.
After the win, Embiid had no reluctance in telling his side of the story. The night before, he'd taken to social media, using a Batman quote to spark consternation among fans. The night before that, he'd shushed the crowd after making a game-sealing three-pointer against the Bulls and said he was "just being a good a--hole."
If one hadn't been following it all closely, it might have been difficult to discern Embiid's precise stance or feelings. He tried to clear things up Tuesday.
Embiid initially feigned ignorance when a reporter asked about the reception for the All-Star center in pregame introductions, which was not universally positive.
That response appears to indicate an intentional shift back to a brash mentality. The mature, responsible person and player he'd talked about aspiring to be earlier this season? It sounds like he's scrapping that idea for now.
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To Embiid's credit, he did maintain his vow of avoiding any more suspensions for another game - both himself and Marcus Morris came away with technical fouls after a shoving exchange in the fourth quarter. During that moment, it did seem Embiid was threatening to cross a line. Embiid chirped at Morris, stared up at the video replay of the incident, did a spontaneous dance as everyone waited for a verdict, and eventually returned to basketball.
The 25-year-old big man is rarely short on drama. When he's playing well and the Sixers are winning, that drama often manifests as contagious joy and immense entertainment. As we've seen recently, the other side isn't nearly as fun for anyone involved.
"I do understand it," he said. "Like I keep saying, if you boo and someone is going to shush you, you've gotta be OK with it. It's all love. I understand where they're coming from, but I do know that they've got my back. Through the injuries and what we've been through, I'm still here. This is still my city, this is still our city. So, we're going to keep pushing and trying to win that championship."
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