There isn’t really anything Joel Embiid could have said after his Game 7 beer belch that would have made up for it. He could have laid out all the mea culpas in the world, and Sixers fans are going to be pretty sharp eyed and tongued (pardon for making you think about Philadelphian tongues) come next October regardless.
Nikola Jokić is your 2023 NBA MVP… right?
But hey, if he learned nothing else from his coach Doc Rivers, it’s how to make a big enough show to try to distract everyone from the fact that he’s shirking responsibility. Embiid’s presser was mostly trying to get heat off soon-to-be-Rocket James Harden, though there was some pretty flimsy, “It’s up to the gods” bullshit in there as well.
The 76ers blew it
The Celtics and Jayson Tatum were so good in Game 7 that Embiid and Rivers probably couldn’t have done much to swing the tide. Though it might have been nice if it didn’t take Rivers two and a half quarters to figure out they were running over Embiid in every screen and roll and maybe try any other kind of coverage. No, they’ll rue Game 6 when the entire team froze, including Rivers, as Tatum took 40 minutes to locate a shovel to hit a bull in the ass with. They couldn’t get the ball to Embiid at all in the final five minutes then, their offense consisted of letting James Harden think it was still 2018 even though he has all the burst of a snot bubble.
But when you’re Joel Embiid, and not so much winning the MVP but bitching about maybe not winning the MVP, it doesn’t really matter if you’re playing hurt. It doesn’t really matter what you tell the assembled media. You can’t get your ass kicked by Al Horford. You can’t settle for contested jumpers at the nail every time, especially when Harden is either intentionally or unintentionally trolling Sixers fans by passing on every drive into the lane (almost certainly unintentionally because you can’t finish at the rim in traffic when your explosion is on the same level as “popping pimple”). You can’t repeatedly let the shot-clock get down to its nether regions while you and your running buddy dribble into oblivion.
No, you do what Tatum did in Games 6 and 7, which is first pull your team’s ass out of a sling when no one else can and then you grab the series and game by the throat. Embiid just watched it pass him by, as he has every time he’s been in the second round.
Sure, the Sixers probably could use more of a supporting cast around Embiid. Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris were too fleeting, the bench too inconsistent, and their coach frozen in time. But this is the NBA, and the buck always stops with the top guys, especially when he’s toting around the latest Michael Jordan trophy. Shooting 37 percent from the floor in a chance to close out at home and a Game 7 combined ain’t it. And there isn’t a sound bite that’s going to get Embiid out of that.
Edmonton Oilers eliminated by Las Vegas
Maybe if Embiid wants some counsel he can call Connor McDavid. Because he’s used to being let down by the team around him far shorter of where his talent and status dictates he should be playing games. So it came to pass again, as the Oilers were eliminated in six games by the Vegas Knights, who were on their third or fourth goalie, depending on the weather that day.
It was a familiar death by whiff for EdMo, the whiff being provided by Stuart Skinner in net as he was pulled for the third time in the series.
While there will be only a slightly smaller post-mortem and hand-wringing in Northern Alberta than there is in Ontario for the Leafs right now, it isn’t all that complicated. The Oilers by every measure were right there with the Knights for the series. There isn’t much you can do when your goalie puts up a .864 save-percentage over the series. It’s harsh on Skinner, who was very good in the regular season and is hardly the first rookie goalie to crumble under the playoff lights. Perhaps his time is still out there in the future.
The Oilers didn’t get any forward scoring more than two even-strength goals the entire playoffs outside of Draisaitl and McDavid, aside from Nick Bjugstad, their fourth-line center. Same as it ever was.