Consider first the fact that Philadelphia had just 91 points at the end of regulation; one has to go all the way back to November 30 to find a game that the Sixers scored that few points (a contest that did not feature James Harden or Tyrese Maxey).
While Joel Embiid put in another MVP performance (37 points, 16 rebounds), his co-star Harden mostly deferred all night (five points, 12 assists, seven rebounds).
After the game, Doc Rivers told reporters that Harden looked to have some foot troubles that may have held him back.
“I thought he was hurting a little bit, I thought our pace was so slow, a lot of late-clock possessions, and when we’ve done that this year, typically we have not won the game,” Rivers explained.
When asked a follow-up about where exactly Harden “was hurting,” Rivers responded, “his foot.”
Harden missed significant time earlier in the season with a foot injury. Since then, however, the Sixers have recovered massively. Their 126.1 offensive rating in March is the league’s best, which is why Monday night’s letdown was so striking.
Drummond Calls Out Embiid After MVP Run
Prior to the Bulls contest, former Sixers big man Andre Drummond sent praise Embiid’s way, calling the former Kansas Jayhawk “an MVP player.”
“I wish I could make the decision for the league, but I think he’s an MVP player. I think he’s the best big in the league right now, along(side) Jokic…Hopefully, he gets it,” Drummond said, per Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire.
Embiid has been on an absolute tear lately. The NBA‘s betting favorite to win MVP, Embiid’s been crucial to the Sixers’ excellent play in March. He leads the league in points per game and is third in blocks per game this month.
Moreover, the Sixers were cruising before the Bulls loss; with matchups against the Celtics, Bucks, and Nuggets still remaining, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Philly leapfrogs Boston for the No. 2 seed in the East.
It’s that postseason run that Drummond ultimately believes is motivating Embiid.
“I think his main focus is (to) win a championship right now. I think that’s where his mind is — if he gets it, he gets it — but I think he wants to win the championship,” Drummond said, per Justin Grasso of Sports Illustrated.
Rivers Urges Civility in MVP Race Discourse
And if you ask Rivers, Embiid is the league’s MVP. But the former point guard was quick to also urge prognosticators to celebrate the players rather than denigrate them.
“I’m going to say this one more time,” he told reporters, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I’m going to try to stay off this subject. Joel is the MVP, but I want to make a point. Can we stop trying to put people down? We should be celebrating different guys in the league.”
While the league is undoubtedly loaded with talent, Rivers also assured reporters that his hypothetical vote would go to Embiid.
“We don’t need to push one down to elevate the other guy,” Rivers said. “They all are completely different players. They are. Joel, in my opinion, is the best of that, and I don’t think anyone needs me to campaign for him.”