When it was reported earlier this week, first by ESPN, that Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic would be named the NBA MVP for the second straight season, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, one of the three finalists for the annual award, along with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, already a two-time most valuable player, offered his take on the selection.
“Obviously, congrats to Nikola,” Embiid said. “He deserved it. He had an amazing season. There’s no right or wrong. There [were] a lot of candidates. It could have gone either way. Giannis, Devin Booker, being on the best team in the league [Phoenix Suns], by far. So, I guess, every year is all about whatever you guys decide, whatever fits the narrative as far as who’s gonna win.
“ …I’m not mad,” Embiid continued. “That’s two years in a row I put myself in that position. It didn’t happen. It is almost like, at this point, it is whatever. Whatever happens, happens.
“Last year, I campaigned about it. This year, I answered questions when I was asked, and in the next few years until I retire, it’s almost like…I wonder what else I have to do to win it, and to me, it’s like, at this point it’s like, it’s whatever. It’s all about focusing, not that I wasn’t focused on the bigger picture, but you know, it’s really time to really put all my energy into the bigger picture, which is to win the whole thing.”
It’s evident that Embiid, who led the league in scoring at 30.6 points per game, strongly desired the honor. But the native of Cameroon who played at the University of Kansas for one season before becoming the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, has a chance to bolster public opinion in the postseason as many fans and members of the media felt he should have been named the winner over Jokic.
But in Game 5 of the No. 4 seed 76ers Eastern Conference semifinals series against the No. 1 Miami on Tuesday on the road, Embiid barely flashed MVP credentials. The Heat blitzed the Sixers from the opening quarter and ran away with a 120-85 victory to take a 3-2 series lead with Embiid and his teammates facing elimination at home tonight. Embiid scored just 17 points in 33 minutes on 7-12 shooting. The Heat was paced by forward Jimmy Butler’s game high 23 points.
“Honestly, they were just more engaged, more physical, took us out of stuff,” said 76ers head coach Doc Rivers of the loss. “Yeah, there’s a lot of disappointment from all of us tonight.” Although Embiid is still dealing with an orbital fracture of his face sustained against the Toronto Raptors in the opening round, and is wearing a protective face mask, he appeared to be unaffected by the injury in Games 3 and 4 after missing the opening two games versus the Heat.
Embiid posted a strong 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Sixers’ 99-79 win in Game 3 last Friday, and came back with an even more impressive 24 and 11 in Game 4 on Sunday as Philadelphia topped the Heat 116-108.
In what is shaping up as a classic series, the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics and No. 3 seed Milwaukee Bucks were tied 2-2 with Game 5 last night in Boston.