At times Embiid looked like an 11th grader playing against the Grade 7 B team, destroying Wizards defenders in any way he could. Scott Brooks did the
questionable terrible stupid bold decision not to double down on Embiid for most of the game, and the 7-footer roasted every defenseman who came forward, from Alex Len to Daniel Gafford to Rui Hachimura.
ESPN commentator Vince Carter made a good point after Embiid torched Len in one blanket for his first basket of the game.
Even if you want to mix unique coverage against Embiid, Carter postulated, you shouldn’t do it early on. Embiid clearly picked up the pace early, and there was no turning back. Getting some easy buckets and free throw attempts has allowed Embiid to find a rhythm with his jumping shot, at which point he becomes simply impossible to protect. Watch here play with the smaller Hachimura, facing no resistance.
So if Len is too slow and Hachimura is too small, what about Gafford? He is tall, fast and athletic! It is sure that it will work! Nope.And when the wizards finally sent a second man to Embiid, it was way too late and way too slow.
As crazy as it seems to show unique coverage of Embiid pretty much the entire game, you can understand where Brooks came from. His team had consistently teamed up with Embiid in the first two games of the series, and the results weren’t pretty. The Wizards had just dropped 25 points with this strategy, it’s not like they were limiting Embiid’s score in the process (pun intended) – he averaged 26 points in 28 minutes in Games 1 and 2.
The 76ers entered Game 3 averaging 1.3 points per possession in the first round series when Embiid faced a tough double-team, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Just two years ago, in the 2018-19 playoffs, Philadelphia averaged 0.824 points per possession in the same situations. The numbers help illustrate the evolution of Embiid with his patience and overtaking when a second man hits him.
Assuming the Sixers put the Wizards down relatively quickly, their later opponents on the way to the NBA Finals are likely to be much better defensively. But whether it’s the Knicks or the Hawks, and then later the Bucks, Nets, or Celtics, each team will be faced with a similar conundrum of how and when to double-team Embiid.
He certainly proved with Saturday’s masterpiece that consistent single coverage is just not an option.