Joel Embiid is again and the Celtics nonetheless can’t cease him


Essentially the most fascinating factor in regards to the track Maria from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music is the truth that what makes Maria such a delight is what makes her, quote-unquote, an issue. Due to this fact, making an attempt to unravel an issue like Maria would imply reconfiguring her into one thing non-Marian. You see, Maria is as far-removed from nunnery as you may be; her hassle is that she is, in actual fact, a nun. She needs to sing and dance and behave freely, like a hen with no flight path. Her fellow nuns examine her to a uncontrollably crashing wave– “How do you retain a wave upon the sand?” I believe my favourite line from the track is that this: “How do you maintain a moonbeam in your hand?”

Therein lies the true crux of the tune. How do you remedy an issue like Maria? You possibly can’t.

Generally, you’ll be able to’t remedy an issue, it doesn’t matter what – or who – you throw at it. Which may be why no group, least of all of the Boston Celtics, has been capable of cease Joel Embiid this season. If we have been to make an inventory of probably the most moonbeam-ish gamers within the NBA, it’d be exhausting to go away Embiid out of the highest two. (Nikola Jokic might need to be on the high, given the entire unicorn aesthetic doesn’t veer that removed from that of a moonbeam.) He’s freeway overpass with a post-game, a seven-foot, 280-pounder with arms the dimensions of the Liberty Bell. “A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the-wisp!”

Evidently, the Celtics don’t do effectively with probably the most monstrous of flibbertijibbets, a lot in order that Embiid has carried out sufficient in three video games in opposition to them this season to element his complete MVP marketing campaign. In opposition to all opponents this 12 months, he’s averaging 29.9 factors on 52.1-percent taking pictures per contest. In opposition to the Celtics, he averages 38.3 on 60.4-percent taking pictures (he’s gone for 42, 38, and 35 within the three respective matchups). The Sixers have received mentioned video games by a median of 10 factors.

However maybe probably the most alarming stat – startling, disconcerting, numerous different detrimental synonyms – comes within the type of his free throw makes an attempt. His makes go with out query, as his share hardly varies in contests in opposition to the remainder of the league versus in opposition to the Celtics. However he makes an attempt roughly seven extra free throws in opposition to Boston than his season common, leaping to 18.7 per recreation from 11.8. By way of fouls drawn per recreation, Embiid is boasting a career-high 7.97 this season, per PBP Stats, however in opposition to the Celtics? That whole shoots as much as 11.3, nearly seven extra fouls than the subsequent Sixer (Ben Simmons, 4.7). If you happen to can’t beat him… foul him?

It’s precisely what the Celtics have carried out, to undesirable returns. With Tristan Thompson sustaining a residency on the bench attributable to a lifetime take care of the league’s well being and security protocols and Daniel Theis having been traded to Chicago, the Celtics heart rotation is 1) thinner, and a pair of) at fixed threat of being pressured to provide Tacko Fall actual minutes. Take final night time: by the point there have been seven minutes remaining within the first quarter, Robert Williams had already – and possibly questionably – been nicked along with his second foul. Brad Stevens, as a result of he has no different selection at this level, subbed in Luke Kornet, who Embiid instantly diminished to rubble.

To border Kornet’s night time in a light-weight that headlines this play would do it a grave injustice; he did enhance, not stopping Embiid, however no less than contributing to the fleeting effort that’s containing him. However to border Embiid’s night time in a means that locations this play on the high of the spotlight reel is to correctly epitomize the benefit with which he tends to create for himself in opposition to the Celtics. And it notably comes on face-up drives like within the clip above. He has pushed 4.3 occasions per recreation in opposition to the Celtics this season, made his photographs following the drive 87.5% of the time, and scored 138.5% of his factors, per Second Spectrum monitoring information. If he’s driving, he’s sure to attain. Which is probably going why defenses resort to hacking him on the way in which, which he responds to by – greater than seemingly – draining two free throws. Two factors can are available many types.

Embiid has improved fairly steadily over the course of his profession, and although his try and be as prolific a three-point shooter as he’s a publish presence drives me to the purpose of creating a pulmonary embolism, he’s discovered to make use of his size and endurance in methods that can give a protection suits.

Right here, he retains Williams on his again, stretches one-half of his 7-foot-6 wingspan towards the sideline and requires the ball. When Williams makes an attempt to leap the passing lane (and does so off stability), Embiid shuffles again a foot or so, catches the lob move from Curry, and drives to the lane. Williams scrambles again to Embiid, doesn’t suppose twice about leaping towards what he hopes is a block, however due to a pump pretend, meets Embiid’s physique within the course of. Embiid’s pump fakes on the perimeter are painstakingly apparent, subsequently don’t result in a ton of leaping defenders, however within the publish, he’s all the time a menace to attain.

We’re hardly two minutes into the sport, and Embiid has discovered precisely the best way to outwork Williams and get him into foul hassle. Earlier than the sport, the most vital factor Stevens alluded to when it got here to Williams’ efficiency was not getting in foul hassle. “The most important factor for Rob is that he must work as exhausting as he can earlier than the catch, after which he must play with out fouling.” Williams fouled out of this recreation; two of these fouls got here in opposition to Embiid. It was a wake-up name for Timelord, who due to Embiid’s play and some over-ambitious defensive efforts, regarded extra like Time-on-the-bench Lord. (I’ll see myself out.)

Although they have been most definitely at his mercy for a lot of the sport, the Celtics did present some indicators of understanding how, if nothing else, to drive one other Sixer to beat them. The issue? Many of the different Sixers can do precisely that simply effective. It’s fast, however watch how Williams and Tatum swarm Embiid on the high of the beneath clip. It’s good protection… if the remainder of the Celtics aren’t desperately ball-watching, and if anybody knew precisely what their subsequent defensive rotation ought to be, and if Tatum can snap again into place on his authentic project following the double-team. Actually, each assist project seems to have been miscommunicated, or that is only a pathetic defensive place from a group that has struggled to correctly react to savvy ball motion all season.

The beneath effort is a lot higher, throughout the board. Good fouls Embiid, rendering the entice ineffective, however had he not, there’s a excessive chance that the Celtics would have both pressured a turnover or a tricky shot with minimal time left on the shot clock.

Then once more, it’s exhausting to say “effectively, if that wasn’t a foul” when it was, in actual fact, a foul, albeit a 50-50 one. It’s a least a window into what can work, if — there it’s once more — the Celtics can cease fouling Embiid. Attacking Embiid’s weak aspect and forcing the entice is one of the best case state of affairs in opposition to a participant like Embiid, one that you may’t placed on the free throw line nor go away open on the perimeter. With different bigs, you may be blissful giving up a jumper, whether or not a 3, a fadeaway, what have you ever. Not Embiid, who has made 58.8 % of his mid-range photographs in opposition to Boston this season, and 57.9 % of his pull-ups, per Second Spectrum. Even when the defender is in good defensive possession, Embiid is stronger, and might create a Grand Canyon’s-worth of area with one shoulder bump. It hasn’t mattered who’s guarding him both.

Right here’s Tristan Thompson again when the Celtics visited Philadelphia on Jan. 20, trying like me after I performed in opposition to Anthony Lamb in highschool.

And right here’s Daniel Theis in that very same recreation, being backed into the publish like a cardboard cutout of a helpless matador.

Quick ahead to final night time’s effort, the place the Celtics pressured themselves into certainly one of two issues: they both fouled Embiid, or had already been pressured into foul hassle by Embiid to the purpose the place they — notably Robert Williams — exercised warning and sagged off. They could as effectively have handed him a voucher: “Free factors at checkout with each inch of area.”

And simply so as to add insult to damage, I see your sagging protection, and lift you hopeless and defenseless.

Towards the top of the TNT broadcast, as Ian Eagle and Reggie Miller marveled at yet one more dominating efficiency from Embiid, Miller talked about the humongous brace on the middle’s left leg. (You thought Embiid’s arms have been the dimensions of the Liberty Bell?) The brace serves as a reminder that Embiid missed 10 video games with a bone bruise in that knee, an damage that many claimed may value him a shot on the MVP award he arguably deserves. Nevertheless it’s what Eagle mentioned in response to Miller’s shock on the sheer girth of this brace that actually tells the story: “There’s been some rust for Embiid, however his rust just isn’t as extreme as most participant’s rust.”

It’s so non-severe that, in opposition to the Celtics, it hardly seems like rust in any respect. For Williams and Kornet — Boston’s de facto heart duo in the interim — this was the last word take a look at in playoff preparation, and for Williams, it was a take a look at to see how he might fare in opposition to the league’s elite bigs, half-hobbled or not. To say the least, they failed. Embiid tuned them up, full cease. So, should you’re curious how one can remedy an issue like Joel Embiid, greatest ask one other group. No one can maintain a moonbeam of their hand, nevertheless it’s the Celtics who’ve but to come back shut.


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