Leave it to an ex-Laker and an ex-Sixer to scar the pride of one of basketball’s most talented players just in time for him to take it out on the Celtics.
Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley combined to give the Celtics their first TD Garden loss of the season Thursday night by motivating Sixers center Joel Embiid into a dominant performance in a 115-109 victory.
Shaq and Sir Charles spoke the truth Tuesday night about their disappointment in Embiid’s performance this season, particularly his lack of aggressiveness offensively, and two nights later the 7-foot center from Cameroon took the words to heart, channeled them in a positive way and unloaded on the Celtics all night long.
Embiid ensured the Sixers didn’t miss injured Al Horford by dumping 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists on the Celtics. He also had a key blocked shot of a Daniel Theis shot at the hoop late in the game.
“I like it when I’m criticized,” Embiid said afterward. “For them to say that I have the potential to be the best player in the world and I haven’t shown that and I should already be showing that, that says a lot. You know, they’ve been there. They’ve done it. They’re Hall of Famers, so it shows me I’ve got to play harder and I’ve got to dominate like I can.”
He dominated all night. Embiid did a great job of finding the open shooter when doubled and his teammates knocked down the shots. The Sixers made 14 of 28 3-pointers.
“I actually gave Shaq a call yesterday,” Embiid said after the game. “He thought I was mad at him, but I understand what he was saying. I’ve had a down year so far. I just wanted to talk to him. He was just telling me to be aggressive, to go out there and dominate. I think it was great for me.”
And bad for the Celtics.
The Sixers, so big at every position on the floor, are a tough matchup for the Celtics on any night, more so when their best player was out to impress a pair of Hall of Fame players. Shaq and Barkley, who made their comments after the Sixers played the Nuggets on Tuesday night, shouldn’t have to pay for any cheese steaks in Philly after doing the city such a big favor.
Sixers coach Brett Brown was impressed with his center’s response to the unvarnished truth spoken about him from a pair of NBA legends.
“He handled it like an adult. He handled it with humility. He owned some of it, and then came out and responded in a very dramatic way,” Brown said. “To me it was one of his better games since he’s been a Philadelphia 76er. He was dominant. He was a leader.”
By forever speaking the truth as he sees it, Barkley is the best commentator in sports. He’s the best showman in any sports studio because he doesn’t try to put on a show. He’s just himself: a candid, super smart, insightful, genuinely hilarious, larger-than-life presence whose words carry a lot of weight with basketball players and fans alike. He’s the anti NFL studio host/ex-player. They tend to specialize in ersatz humor and soft commentary. Barkley brings chin music and hilarity in equal parts, and when he comes with praise it carries 100 percent credibility.
By using the critique to fuel him,, Embiid had a blast in one of his favorite places to play. Winning in Boston means a lot to a lot of players, especially ones who can be favorite targets of spirited hecklers. Embiid is a prime target.
“It was great. They’ve got great fans,” Embiid said. “They get loud. The loudest place I’ve ever been a part of was actually here in Game 2 of the playoffs two years ago. We were up by 20 and they made their run. It was loud, and my ears were popping. That’s the loudest arena I’ve ever been in. They’ve got great fans. They talk a lot of trash. I like that. It gets me going. I had that fun mentality about me tonight, just reacting to it and just playing off of it.”
Embiid can be moody at times and his moods can affect his effort negatively. Thanks in part to Shaq and Barkley, and in part to the jazzed crowd, Embiid finished his night in a great mood.