Joel Embiid may have been motivated by the results of the NBA MVP vote, the possibility of 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, or a combination of both. Whatever it was, the 76ers center played Tuesday with a force the Hawks simply couldn’t match.
In Philadelphia’s 118-102 win over Atlanta, Embiid scored 40 points (13 of 25 field goals, 12 of 16 free throws) and 13 rebounds, making him the first Sixers player to play a 40-10 playoff game since Billy Cunningham has been doing 1970. In the first two games of the series against the Hawks, Embiid has now accumulated 79 points at 54.3 percent shooting, which is unbelievable when you consider that the All-Star plays with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee .
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The 76ers win came the same night the NBA announced that Nuggets star Nikola Jokic had won the 2020-21 NBA MVP award. Jokic received 91 out of a possible 101 votes for first place after playing in every regular season game, averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists. Embiid, who averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds in 51 regular season competitions, led all players with 62 votes for second place.
When asked about the voting results after Game 2, Embiid told reporters that he hadn’t focused on awards in the second half of the season and “just wanted to be prepared for this moment.”
“It’s disappointing because as a player you work hard for moments like these,” said Embiid. “But then again, it’s out of my control. I can’t do anything about it. I just have to come out every year and just be ready and do my job. I’m focusing on the playoffs. I’m focusing on the like I’ve been saying all season we have a good chance.
“So I’m not worried about these awards and such. When and when I have this trophy in my hand, nothing else matters.”
That’s the answer you’ll want to hear if you’re a Sixers fan. Obviously, Embiid would have preferred to finish ahead of Jokic, but at just 27, he has more MVP caliber seasons ahead of him. His main focus should be on this playoff run.
Philadelphia is a legitimate title contender as long as Embiid can stay healthy, but there is still work to be done if the 76ers are to get out of the east side of the playoff streak. The Hawks have already shown they are going to have a tough time and if the 76ers get past them the Bucks or Nets will be a big challenge in the Eastern Conference finals.