The Philadelphia 76ers were very close to beating the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In Game 3, Joel Embiid was unstoppable. He dropped 33 points, collected 10 rebounds, and block five shots, and after three games, Philly was up 2-1 with an opportunity to go up 3-1 in Game 4 at home. However, Embiid would get sick; he was ineffective in Games 4 and 5. The Raptors would win both of those games and would win the series in seven after Kawhi Leonard’s buzzing beating, series-clinching jump shot.
Many point to Embiid’s health as one of the reasons the 76ers lost the series, and some pointed to his body language during Games 4 and 5. Embiid not only played sick, but he looked sick. It was written all over his face, and it looked as if the team was deflated because of it.
TNT’s Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were critical of Embiid’s body language, and Hall of Famer Alex English noticed Embiid’s body language as well.
“I saw the very same thing, and that’s maybe why I’m saying and being as harsh as I am in saying I thought he looked really bad,” English recently said about Embiid on the Go4it podcast. “I think that’s what it is; his body language, his hustle back on defense after he shot a shot, the effort that he put in a game. Those are the things that make me feel like I feel when I think of Joel Embiid.
“Before the playoffs, I said, ‘Hey man, this guy is the best thing since sliced bread,’ and after that, I’m like, ‘Well, maybe not.’ Because I don’t know if he’s got the heart of a champion yet, he’s still a young guy. It may take a while, but you’re in the NBA playoffs, you gotta give up more than what he gave.”
While he was critical of Embiid, English, like ESPN’s Mark Jackson, believes the 25-year-old center can be great, but he has some work to do.
“I think he will be one of the all-time great centers. I don’t think he will be the all-time great center,” English said. “It’s gonna be hard for anybody to top Bill Russell in my book, but I think he’s got potential. It’s parts of his game that he has to work on.
“There were times when he looked great out on the floor, and then, there were times he looked like a dog, and I don’t like that… He looked like he looked because of the way his health was at that moment. He was not feeling well; I only say that if you got the heart of a champion, you find a way to overcome. I remember Michael Jordan going into a series and just having one the greatest games of his life. Winning the championship being sick.(“Flu Game” in Game 5 of 1997 NBA Finals. Bulls would beat Jazz in 6) I know how it is when I played and I’ve been sick; I always picked it up and said, ‘Hey, I gotta focus even harder because of this.”
Embiid is special, and I think he learned a lot in these playoffs. The Sixers needed him to be at his best. In the Toronto series, the team was plus-90 with him on the floor, but they were minus-111 when he was off the floor, which shows that Embiid is a difference maker.
However, he has to get in better shape and do a better job of taking care of his body. If he can stay healthy, his name will be up there with great centers in the history of the game, but if he does not do what he can to stay healthy, we might be talking about what could have been.
Listen to the complete interview with English below. He talks Embiid at 08:46: