3 Observations: Embiid Returns With Another MVP Performance in Win Over Hawks

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers took down the Atlanta Hawks 104-101 on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. The game went down to the wire, with Joel Embiid carrying the Sixers to the win in the final minutes.

This was Embiid’s first game back in the lineup after missing three games due to a mid-foot sprain. The Sixers were still without James Harden (right foot tendon strain), Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) and Jaden Springer (right quad strain).

Embiid scored the team’s last 11 points and finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Shake Milton and Tobias Harris were also huge factors in the win. Milton finished with 21 points, five rebounds and seven assists. Harris added in 24 points and 10 rebounds. No other player on the roster scored more than 10 points.

The Hawks were led by Philadelphia native DeAndre Hunter’s 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Trae Young added in 18 points and 10 assists.

The Sixers, 12-9 on the season, next take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. Here are three observations from the win.

Joel Embiid, if healthy, should be the MVP

Over the last two seasons, Embiid has been one of the best players in the league. He has been good enough to finish as the MVP runner-up for the previous two years. He lost both of these awards to Nikola Jokic, who many people view as the best center in the league. Last season, Jokic’s argument in the debate was very solid. However, this year Embiid has been miles better so far.

As a scorer, Embiid has been ridiculous. Playing just 13 games this season, Embiid has already had eight 30-plus point games. That number is good for seventh in the NBA, just behind Giannis Antetokounmpo. Over his last five games, he is averaging 39 points per game. This number is primarily due to his career-high 59-point performance against the Utah Jazz. Perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is the fact that along with his scoring, he is also averaging seven assists.

These numbers are unheard of, especially from somebody that “lacks playmaking.” Embiid’s massive leap in his playmaking abilities this season should be the deciding factor in the Jokic-Embiid debate. Embiid also has the clear defensive edge over Jokic. He made a huge defensive play in the final seconds, swatting down an attempted lob pass to John Collins. His two-way game and added playmaking abilities should solidify him as the MVP front-runner if the Sixers finish with a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference.

Shake Milton still needs minutes when Maxey and Harden return

On a night when two other players scored 24 or more points, Milton still managed to make a huge impact on the game. This is Milton’s fourth straight game of recording at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. He has fully taken advantage of the opportunity to start created by both Harden and Maxey being on the shelf.

The Sixers have a 4-2 record when he starts this season, and he is plus-64 in those games. While the Sixers have two All-Star caliber players in their starting backcourt, it will be important for head coach Doc Rivers to continue to give Milton minutes throughout the rest of the season. He has been very valuable to this team since the injuries have plagued the Sixers, keeping them above .500.

The Sixers are back on track

After a rough start to the season, the Sixers appear to be back on track. The team has won seven of their last nine games despite being riddled with injuries. With Embiid now back on the floor, the team’s play should only continue to improve.

One of the reasons for their jump in play has been a string of incredible defensive performances. Over their last nine games, they are giving up just 104.1 points per game. The Sixers gave up 101 points in the win over the Hawks, forcing them to commit 19 turnovers. The team made it a mission heading into the season to have a top defense, and it seems to be rounding into form.