Coach Doc Rivers gave Embiid a quick message: “No, Jo, you be the dominant guy.”
The NBA MVP finalist quit deferring and started dominating.
Embiid took his lumps and powered his way to 31 points and 11 rebounds, Tyrese Maxey showed he was no one-game post-season wonder and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Toronto Raptors 112-97 on Monday night for a 2-0 lead in the first-round series.
“They put me on the floor a few times and to me, this is where it gets interesting,” Embiid said. “I’m like, cool. I’m going to come back with more power and make you foul me.”
Embiid took foul after foul – he rubbed parts of his shoulders and elbows and shook off at least one foot injury — and made 12 of 14 free throws. He made 9 of 16 shots from the floor for the game.
“That’s what we need from the big fella,” Maxey said.
Maxey had 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Tobias Harris had 20 points and 10 rebounds. James Harden scored 14.
Game 3 in the Eastern Conference series is Wednesday in Toronto.
The Raptors trailed by 27 points but showed some life in the fourth cutting it to 11 until Maxey, the Game 1 star, buried a 3 that got the Sixers rolling again.
OG Anunoby led the Raptors with 26 points. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet each had 20.
The Raptors came ready to rumble after coach Nick Nurse accused the officials of letting the Sixers get away with hard fouls in Game 1. Not even 2 minutes into the game, Anunoby shoved Embiid, Embiid shoved back and both teams had to be separated as the crowd erupted. Anunoby and Embiid were both whistled for technical fouls.
“I didn’t really want them to set that tone,” Embiid said. “I wanted myself and us to set that tone. That’s why I picked up that early technical foul.”
The Raptors raced to an 11-2 lead and had the first six fouls to none for the 76ers.
“They wanted to muck the game up and play physical, Rivers said. ”I just told our guys to just play through it.”
Embiid, the NBA scoring champion who had only 19 points in Game 1, was fouled hard by Siakam and made a free throw — one of the 11 he made in the quarter on 12 attempts. He matched his Game 1 total with 19 points in the quarter.
Embiid told Nurse in the waning moments of the game that he was going to keep making all the free throws if Toronto continued to foul him.
Nurse’s retort? “You might have to.”
Embiid laughed and said he told Nurse, “respectfully, to stop b——ing about calls.”
VanVleet scored 17 points in the half and tried to keep the Raptors in the game. Maxey, who had 38 points in Game 1, didn’t score until he hit a floater in the lane with 8:03 left in the second. He followed with an acrobatic layup for a 50-42 lead and suddenly the Sixers had some juice. Harden hit a 3 for an 11-point lead.
The half ended with a tense moment.
Harden tried to split two defenders on a drive down the lane in the final seconds of the half and his knee crashed into Embiid’s left knee. Embiid’s left ankle seemed to buckle and both players went down in a heap. Both stars were sprawled on the backs for several moments: Harden rubbed his neck and head. Embiid limped down the court on the next possession.
Sixers fans held their breath at the half.
Philly’s first bucket of the third quarter? How about Harden-to-Embiid on an alley-oop that settled nerves and rattled the rim.
Embiid scored nine more points in the third and Maxey had seven for a 95-73 lead at the end of the third. Embiid had 28 points and 11 rebounds before he picked up his first foul midway through the fourth.
Embiid played every bit like the All-Star who carried the Sixers this season.
“He’s the most dominant player in the league,” Rivers said.