Joel Embiid impressed Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle on Saturday when he set a franchise record by scoring 30 points or more in nine consecutive outings.
The Cameroonian had 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists, leading the Sixers to a 141-121 win over the Pacers. His team have won eight in a row and are sitting comfortably as the No 3 seed in the Eastern standings.
Embiid’s involvement in this winning streak has put him alongside NBA legends Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain, who racked up similar records, and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has been impressed with how it unfolded.
“Embiid, right now, he’s probably the MVP,” Carlisle said. “With what their team is doing and how he’s just elevated his game, he’s as difficult a guy to game plan for as there is in the game. Giannis is crazy ridiculous. Jokic is the same. And this guy maybe even more difficult if that’s possible.
“He had 31 points in less than three quarters. Made it look like he wasn’t even trying to do it. … He’s a walking NBA cheat code right now. He’s just that good.”
Sixers coach Doc Rivers echoed his sentiment, saying “I was really happy. Joel at times was our point guard. He probably had 15 hockey assists, and that was just terrific. Low turnovers. Against a high-scoring team on the road, you had to do that.”
The Pacers threw all kinds of junk defenses at him. For a time Aaron Nesmith served as a first-line of defense, checking him as far away from the basket as he could, and even that did not work particularly well. Even when they played him tough, he drew fouls and made 10 of 13 free throws.
“It’s tough because he’s such a big dude,” Nesmith said. “Seven foot and very heavy. It’s hard to guard him without using your hands and being physical. In today’s game, the way the refs call it, it’s hard to be physical with a guy like that and not get in foul trouble. I was trying to find that balance. When I first got him, I picked up like three fouls because of it.”
His recent form has been problematic for defenders across the league and is giving Jokic and Giannis something to think about in the MVP standings. With less than 15 games left to go in the regular season, it may be that Embiid, unlike the others, will have peaked at just the right time.