I’m not sure there has ever been a more dominant player that Celtics fans are less scared of than Joel Embiid. It’s always the same Twitter conversation.
“Yea, nice regular season game, but we know what will happen in the playoffs.”
While I agree to an extent, it’s tough to continue that sentiment since Embiid hasn’t seen the Celtics in the playoffs since 2020. During that time, he has emerged as one of the five best basketball players in the world and a perennial MVP candidate. His regular season performances since then have been eye-opening, capped off with a 52-point performance in early April. With a 2nd round series against Philadelphia looking more and more likely, let’s go through Embiid’s numbers against Boston to see how scared Celtics fans should be heading into the postseason.
First things first, Embiid’s overall stat line against Boston since 2021 has been borderline dominant. Call it box score watching, but 32.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 4.2 APG is nothing to scoff at. They’ve played 11 total games, Embiid has 40+ in 4 of those 11 and hit the double-double mark in 8. 53.9% FFG and most impressively to me, 84.2% from the FT line and 13.8 FTAPG. Now, I will definitely side with Celtics fans that Embiid gets to the line almost an obnoxious number of times, but for a guy of his size to shoot over 80% from the line is legendary stuff.
A big change to Embiid’s play style comes in his 3PA. In his last three games against Boston, he’s only attempted five total 3s, a huge drop from the 14 he attempted the three prior. After all those years of people giving him space to shoot and fans jeering him for doing so, he’s adjusted and has seen his scoring skyrocket since he’s made the change.
A lot of this, of course, is just looking at stats and maybe cherry-picking the ones that fit the “Embiid has figured out Boston” narrative or the “Philly has no chance against Boston” one, but for me, Embiid’s play style change could have major ramifications for Philly. He’s now one of the best mid-range shooters in the league, he’s constantly torturing teams with free throw line jumpers and the team around him is as good as it’s ever been.
The only issue is that Philadelphia AS A TEAM has fared quite poorly against the Celtics in that time span. While they are 5-5 as a whole since 2020 ended, they are 1-4 against Boston since the Celtics turned the franchise around in the middle of 2022.
Now comes the time in the article where we turn ourselves into the Bart Simpson meme and officially say the line, “Embiid can’t get it done in the playoffs.” For now, it’s true. The 76ers got swept out of the playoffs last year by the Heat and have yet to make the ECF with Embiid on the team. He’s never beaten Boston in a playoff series — heck, he’s only taken one game off them in 2 different tries.
So, we’re a bit stuck in the usual circle. Joel Embiid is an amazing basketball player; I think we can all at least admit that. He’s basically a 7’2” shooting guard at this point, but he’s constantly let down by his team in big spots and he himself has struggled heavily in important playoff series. Will he stick to his regular season ways and continue dropping 35+ against Boston? Or will it go the way of his last playoff series and see him going home early? Could go either way, but both teams are going to have to get to the matchup first before we start asking the hard questions.