MEMPHIS, Tenn. – For 13 minutes, life was good and the basketball came easy for Joel Embiid. And the Sixers showed some fight against one of the NBA’s tougher teams.
Complete coverage of the Philadelphia 76ers and their rivals in the NBA from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
But after a dozen minutes – 12:45 to be eact – Embiid ran out of minutes. That also meant the Sixers had no other healthy and available answers for Memphis’ inside muscle and experience, and eventually were routed 121-91 Tuesday night at FedEx Forum (see Instant Replay).
But this story isn’t about another hard shot to the chops, though Embiid said, “We lost by a lot, so I think my performance doesn’t matter as much.”
Still, the highly anticipated rookie from Kansas said, “The game started to get easy for me. I’m starting to figure it out.”
That rattle you hear, after a 13-point, five-rebound performance in those limited minutes: the rest of the NBA experiencing a cold shiver.
“This was a very good test for Joel and he handled it extremely well,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the former No. 3 overall draft pick from Kansas. “I think as he starts traveling around the league and people start looking at him … he runs the floor well for a man his size. He competes.”
His first four minutes, going mano a mano with Gasol, a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Embiid was tentative. His next four minutes were against two-time All-Star Zach Randolph, who has been moved to the Grizzlies’ second unit by new coach David Fizdale to quicken the pace of his first unit, and give the subs a legitimate scoring threat as an anchor.
Z-Bo did what he always does, muscled the kid in the low block. And Embiid muscled right back.
Embiid finished with 13 points in just under 13 minutes, and went 7 of 8 from the foul line. That was big in Brown’s book, and a major reason the Sixers rallied from a 17-point deficit to tie the game at 53 just before the break.
“That’s a sign of something we’ve been talking about,” Brown said. “How many times do you get to the line? To get there eight times in limited minutes, that’s a great effort.”
Embiid said that throughout the preseason “the first four minutes have been figuring it out the first time on the court with so many new people. The second time out, I’ve been there and things start to get easy.”
As the minutes wore on, he also got several encouraging words, and taps of appreciation from both Grizzlies’ veterans.
“I used to be scared of Z-Bo, but he’s cool. They’re both fun guys,” Embiid said. “They both asked me how my foot was doing, and Marc and I started talking about which of us was better at FIFA (the video game).
Truth be told, Embiid would like to pattern his game after Gasol’s (see story).
“He’s so cool. He just plays easy and doesn’t try to force things,” Embiid said. “If they need a scorer, he scores. They need a playmaker, he does that. Sometimes tonight I tried to force things … I’ll go back, watch the film and learn.”
Before the game, when it was brought up how Embid would like to emulate Pau Gasol’s baby brother, Brown said, “Jo's got good taste. Real good taste. I coached against Marc in the Olympics, and I’ve said for years the Spanish Basketball Federation should erect a statue to Mr. and Mrs. Gasol for all they’ve given the country.
“I think Joel guarding somebody of that size, with that type of skill package, is a wonderful learning opportunity for Joel.”
And for the 12 or so minutes, Embiid's comeback regimen allowed him Tuesday night and the young man took full advantage of the opportunity.