You never want to wake up a sleeping giant and prior to the last time the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers met, Joel Embiid was a sleeping giant.
Embiid's numbers were fine heading into Philadelphia's first meeting with Toronto. He was averaging 22.8 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game on 47.9% shooting from the field. But by his high standards, he was doing very little to stake his claim atop the mountain of NBA big men.
Then came the wake-up call. Embiid has his worst NBA regular-season game in Toronto. No points - not one single bucket. Nothing from the field, where he went 0-for-11. Nothing from the foul line, where he missed his four free-throw attempts - nada.
"I would have never thought that I would be here, talking about zero points in an NBA game, but here's what it is.
"Some nights you make shots, some nights you don't," Embiid said following the 101-96 loss to the Raptors. "Some nights you're hot, some nights you're cold.
"Different defensive schemes, you've got to learn from it. Try to keep learning and working on your game."
Defensive schemes aside, it was a rude awakening to the All-Star center - one that he desperately needed.
Since the poor performance, Embiid has been terrific, boosting his averages to 26.8 points, 15.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. The sleeping giant is wide awake.
"Since the Toronto game, I kind of changed my mindset," Embiid said after the 76ers' 119-116 win over the Indiana Pacers. "It's being aggressive, being more physical, creating the contact, causing whoever is guarding me to react to it."
That change in mindset has seen Embiid put the pressure on opposing defences. He's no longer settling and bailing defences out with long twos or lackadaisical play - he's attacking and drawing fouls.
Before loss to Raptors
Since loss to Raptors
Prior to the game in Toronto, Embiid had taken double-digit free throw twice in 12 games. Since then, he's gotten to the line at least 14 times in four of the five outings.
If the 76ers plan on making the run to the championship they're capable of, they'll need Embiid to be as dominant as he's been the last five games.
It's a long season and the injury concerns are always there for the big man, but when he's assertive, there isn't a center in the league who can be as impactful as him.
On Sunday, Embiid has the potential for a statement game. It will be almost two weeks to the day that Toronto's defence held him scoreless.
Redemption will certainly be on his mind.
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