When Joel Embiid raised his arms at half court after hitting a pair of threes in the fourth quarter, it felt more like a sigh of relief than a celebration.
The All-Star center had a tough start to his night against the Celtics in a 112-109 Sixers' loss at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday (see observations). Embiid admitted that there's extra frustration with this loss to a Boston team the Sixers have dropped their last five games to.
It seems like the Celtics just have the right recipe to slow down Embiid and Ben Simmons. A big part of that is the play of veteran big Al Horford. Horford was efficient on offense, posting 23 points on 9 of 16 from the field, five assists and just one turnover. He had four steals and played strong on-the-ball defense against Embiid.
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While Embiid admitted to feeling frustrated, he didn't attribute it to Horford.
"He's not doing anything, he's just on me," Embiid said. "I was sleepwalking for three quarters and that's on me. That's on me. That has nothing to do with anybody."
You can certainly point to Horford's ability to stick with Embiid, but there is merit to Embiid's point. After going just 3 of 12 for eight points through three, Embiid had a 15-point fourth on 6 of 10 from the field.
Brown was effusive with his praise of Horford, but tended to agree with his big man's assessment of the matchup, shooting down the notion that Embiid was overly affected by Horford.
"[Horford's] a difficult person to score on," Brown said. "I thought that Joel toward the end of the game carried us. He just grabbed the game and carried us. That last few minutes was special from him."
With that said, two of those 15 fourth-quarter points Embiid would like to have back.
With 13.1 seconds left and the Sixers trailing 110-107, the Sixers had the ball out of a timeout. After Tobias Harris missed a game-tying three with 6.6 seconds left, Embiid was able to gather the offensive rebound. Instead of looking to pass the ball back out for another three-point attempt, Embiid scored the easy two with 2.4 seconds left.
The Sixers wound up fouling Jayson Tatum, who made both free throws with 1.8 seconds on the clock. Jimmy Butler couldn't get his half-court heave off in time.
Embiid accepted the blame for the late-game blunder.
"I'm an idiot," Embiid said. "I should've kicked it out or take it out and shoot it. I didn't think about the situation and us not having a timeout. I thought we had one and then as soon as I shot it I looked and I was like, ‘I'm stupid.' Like I said, that's on me. I need to do a better job."
For as great and as dominant as Embiid is, it's easy to forget how young and green he is.
He's still just 24 and has been playing basketball for less than a decade. He may be a legitimate MVP candidate, but there are still growing pains and things to learn from in a tough matchup like the one against Horford and the Celtics.
There's something to be said for Embiid holding himself accountable. It's a sign of maturity and leadership - though he had his undisciplined moments Tuesday.
Embiid picked up his fifth foul on an iffy call against Horford with 3:56 left. Then, with 33.6 seconds left and the Sixers trailing by two, it appeared Embiid was fouled by Horford on a short jumper.
He may not have admitted to being frustrated by Horford, but he didn't hide his feelings about the officiating.
"The referees f------ sucked."
The feeling of letting out your frustrations is priceless … but that one will cost Embiid.
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