Kawhi Leonard‘s four-bounce-and-in series-clinching buzzer beater in Game 7 of the Toronto Raptors‘ Eastern Conference semifinal against the Philadelphia 76ers is a moment that may never be forgotten by Toronto sports fans.
The same can be said of Sixers centre Joel Embiid, the man who desperately — and ultimately hopelessly — put his hand up trying to defend the now famed shot.
It’s been more than four months since Leonard ended Embiid and Philadelphia’s season but it’s a moment that still seems to haunt the all-star centre so much that he puts the blame of that Game 7 loss squarely on his massive shoulders.
“You know you had a chance. Me personally, I know I didn’t show up,” Embiid told The Athletic’s Shams Charania in an interview. “I can’t blame that I wasn’t feeling well, but I know I didn’t do what I know I could do — the whole playoffs, actually. So, to me it felt like a lot of regrets, I felt like I could’ve done more, but I didn’t.”
It’s rather curious that Embiid is being so hard on himself considering he was definitely the best 76ers player that fateful May evening.
Finishing with 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and a team-high plus-10 rating, Embiid was a veritable terror. And while it’s true he was inefficient — he only shot 6-for-18 from the field — considering the fact he had been battling illness in the series and managed to help position Philly just one remarkable shot away from the heading to overtime for him to so critical of himself doesn’t seem right.
But right or not, it looks as if the 25-year-old is holding himself to a higher standard after experiencing that playoff heartbreak to the Raptors.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you don’t win it all,” said Embiid.
Embiid has rightfully been criticized in the past for childish behaviour and being something of a front-runner. That was apparent in Game 3 of the series when he slammed home a wicked windmill dunk to put Philly up 26 and celebrate with an airplane motion and then seemingly couldn’t take it when Drake and Toronto fans clapped back with the same airplane celebration in Game 5.
“I didn’t notice, I just saw them shake their bodies. I didn’t pay attention to what the hell they were doing,” Embiid said of the Toronto crowd mocking him at the time. “I don’t care if [my celebrations] offend anybody about what I do, it’s all about having fun.”
From “it’s all about having fun” to “it doesn’t matter if you don’t win it all,” and accepting all blame for a Game 7 defeat that definitely wasn’t all on him, it certainly appears that something’s changed within Embiid, with that series loss to the Raptors being the catalyst.