A little tough love helped the 76ers pull out a series-clinching win Sunday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center.
Late in the fourth quarter of Eastern Conference semifinal Game 4 between Boston and Philadelphia, P.J. Tucker immediately got in the grill of Joel Embiid after recording a game-tying putback and-1. The NBA MVP leaned over with his hands on his knees as he took an earful from a very animated Tucker.
The stern message clearly sparked new life in Embiid, who went on to help the 76ers secure a 116-115 overtime win over the Celtics. After the game, the superstar big man revealed the nature of the crunch-time exchange.
“He said I need to be me,” Embiid told reporters, per a video shared by NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He just got on me about just going back to myself and being aggressive. In overtime, it was a blessing that my teammates got me there. So, I just wanted to be aggressive and make plays all over the place.”
Embiid was starting to wilt away a bit late in the fourth quarter, and had that trend continued, the Sixers might have taken on a back-breaking loss. Tucker, who’s playing in his 12th NBA season, knew that was something Philly couldn’t afford to let happen.
“Nobody can guard Joel 1-on-1,” Tucker told reporters. “There’s no way. I’m sorry. It’s no disrespect to Al (Horford) or anybody else. I guarded him for a lot of years and when he’s aggressive and assertive, it’s impossible. I’d seen him two, three plays in a row not do that. We can’t have that. We can’t have that, not with the season on the line. We can’t have it.”
Perhaps Tucker should give Embiid another pep talk before Tuesday night’s Game 5 at TD Garden.