Joel Embiid said what everyone else has been thinking Wednesday night after the Boston Celtics knocked off the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
“They’re a really good team. And for the next decade, we’re going to have a lot of fun battles.”
Sure seems that way.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers — the favorites to beat the Celtics and go to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season — still might represent “the now” as it relates to the NBA landscape, in large because LeBron James remains the best player on the planet, Boston and Philadelphia both are on the rise.
And there seemingly is a mutual respect between the up-and-coming teams, with both Embiid and fellow Sixers star Ben Simmons even heaping praise on the Celtics’ fans after Wednesday’s game at TD Garden.
“Coming into this building, arena, the fans are amazing here,” Simmons said. “They’re loud. They talk a lot of (expletive) to you. On that basis, it’s hard to play here. But at the same time, I’m telling my teammates, ‘Give everything you have, that’s all I can really ask for.’ I think I got that from everybody and you’ve got to move forward. You’ve got to get better and look ahead now.”
Embiid is among the NBA’s most entertaining players, and his trash talk and willingness to interact with fans is a huge reason why. The 24-year-old center received an earful from the Boston crowd throughout the best-of-seven series, which culminated with a thrilling 114-112 win for the Celtics, and he embraced every minute of it.
“When they act like that and say that I suck, I just want to show them that, you know, I don’t,” Embiid said of playing in front of a hostile crowd. “I’m much better than you guys think. And I know they know that, too. But it’s just fun to me. In the third quarter, that’s when they were doing it, and I felt like I needed to take over. It wasn’t enough, but I love being in that type of environment. It’s just fun.”
Whether it was chants of “Embiid sucks!” or “Not a rookie!” (a reference to Simmons being drafted first overall in 2016 but not playing at all until this season because of an injury), the famously passionate Celtics fans brought their A-game for the Sixers series.
And it left a positive impression on two superstars who could be the subject of heckling around Boston for years to come given the direction of each franchise.
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