BOSTON — Joel Embiid already has cemented himself as one of, if not the best big man in the NBA.
So it is no surprise that he was a handful for the Boston Celtics in their 117-101 victory in Game 1 of their second-round NBA playoff series against Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
Though the score ended up being fairly lopsided, Embiid simply couldn’t be contained, tallying a game-high 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting with 13 rebounds.
Oftentimes, Embiid was guarded one-on-one by Celtics center Aron Baynes, and though Baynes is one of the better defensive centers in the league, he struggled to quell Embiid’s physicality. As the game drew on, the Sixers sent far more balls to Embiid in the low post, and the 24-year-old had no issue backing down Baynes, or whichever Celtic was tasked with guarding him.
Bailing out the Celtics, however, was the fact that Embiid often struggled to finish around the rim (see his nine missed shots). Had he executed better, the game’s result could have been much different.
Following the game, Embiid was fairly candid in describing the fact that he essentially had free reign in the paint, while also acknowledging that it ended up being no matter due to the result.
“I mean, I feel like I got everything that I wanted and I took advantage of that. I took advantage of them playing me one-on-one,” Embiid said. “But the story of the night is that we lost, so we can’t really look at my performance and say I did good. I mean, we lost, so it doesn’t matter. We just have to turn our eyes to the next one.”
Indeed, what happens from here obviously is essential for the Celtics. Embiid isn’t going away, and Boston’s job of containing him won’t get any easier. As a whole the Sixers were flat, but it’s safe to say that won’t be the case for the entirety of the best-of-seven series. So in the days leading up to Thursday’s Game 2, Boston will need to find some sort of answer.
The reality is there simply is not any one player for the Celtics that can match up one-on-one with Embiid. Aside from Baynes, the next best option likely is Greg Monroe, who was the lone available player to not see time for Boston on Monday.
Whatever the case may be, Embiid is quite aware that he can have his way in the paint. And if the C’s can’t find a way to fix that, it likely will become a pretty big issue.