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Joel Embiid led the NBA in scoring this season — the first centre to do so since Shaquille O’Neal — and has expanded seemingly every aspect of his game since entering the league. Lo and behold, the MVP candidate credits the Toronto Raptors, his opponent in the first round of this year's playoffs, for playing a pivotal role in his development.
The Raptors are notorious for pestering the opposing team’s top offensive player and Embiid is no different. Having to deal with Toronto's defence has forced Embiid to grow and diversify his game.
“The way they defend me has never changed," Embiid told the media after practice on Thursday. "They just play recklessly, sending three guys at me as soon as the ball is in the air.
"They made me better, honestly, over the years, just playing against them and watching them. Definitely made me a better playmaker.”
Joel Embiid on Toronto: "The way they defend me has never changed. They just play recklessly, sending 3 guys at me as soon as the ball is in the air. They made me better honestly, over the years, just playing against them and watching them. Definitely made me a better playmaker."
— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) April 14, 2022
Playmaking is going to be crucial in this playoff series, according to Embiid. While he did lead the league in scoring this year, his mentality is going to be to get a bucket for his team, regardless of who scores. The all-star big man knows it behooves the Raptors to get the ball out of his hands, therefore he must be up to the challenge of getting his teammates open looks.
“I'm not going into the series hoping to average 40 [points]," Embiid said. "They're going to get the ball out of my hands, so it's all about me really not getting frustrated, keep trusting my teammates over and over, making the right plays. Doesn't matter if it's 10, 20 points or whatever, as long as we score, that's my mentality. All the attention they're going to throw on me, I just got to make my teammates better.”
The last time Embiid matched up against Toronto in the playoffs was in 2019. The Raptors bested the Sixers in a scintillating series, with Kawhi Leonard hitting a walk-off winner in Game 7 that bounced an incredulous four times before dropping in.
Embiid struggled in that series, averaging just 17.6 points per game on a lacklustre 37 percent from the field. While the Raptors are facing a far different version of Embiid, he will also be playing a robust Raptors squad loaded with 6-foot-9, high-IQ players that are highly capable of slowing down the 28-year-old.
Game 1 of the Raptors-Sixers series will tip off on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.
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