3. Joel Embiid
The Sixers’ offensive execution down the stretch of Game 6 was classically abysmal, marred by turnovers and a distinct lack of trust between teammates. Suddenly James Harden couldn’t dribble in traffic, the ball was sticking like glue, and as Joel Embiid was quick to point out after the game: he didn’t touch the ball once.
Embiid’s last touch came with roughly four minutes left in the fourth quarter. That’s inexcusable — both from a coaching/execution standpoint, but also from a player standpoint. Joel Embiid is the MVP. He has talked over the years about how much he deserves to be MVP. The Most Valuable Player. He can’t allow that to happen.
The Sixers need Embiid to be absolutely dominant in Game 7. He can’t have stretches of apathy. He can’t be afraid to attack Al Horford in isolation; he can’t let the offense get away from him for entire quarters. The Sixers need an aggressive James Harden to show up too — and it would be quite easy to include him on this list — but Embiid is the Sixers’ primary weapon. He’s the spearhead, and Philadelphia won’t go anywhere if Embiid doesn’t live up to his MVP billing.
We have been waiting years for Embiid’s signature playoff moment. We got the Raptors game-winner last season, but that was in the first round. At some point Embiid has to play superstar-level basketball against opponents better than sixth-place. The Sixers have spent all season making fans feel different about the competitive fire and winning upside of this group, but none of that matters if Embiid fades in the biggest moments. He’s hurt; maybe he’s not quite at 100 percent. But this is the defining moment of his career, and he needs to put up or shut up.