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    'The Process' just took a step backwards with a lame Game 4 stand

    May 7, 2019
    PHOTO: AP
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    CHICAGO - The text message, according to The Philadelphia Daily Inquirer, pinged at 6:20 am, several hours before Game 4 of the Sixers-Raptors Eastern Conference semifinals tipped off at the Wells Fargo Center.

    Joel Embiid informed Sixers head coach Brett Brown that he was sick. Sleepless, so busy evacuating himself, he was unsure if he could play.

    Embiid did start at center but his effort was so benign, and the dominance that we've come to expect from a 7-foot-2, 280 pound transcendent talent appeared to be under severe sedation.

    After punishing the Raptors with a 33-point, 10-rebound Game 3 masterpiece in which he made nine of 18 field goals, three of four triples while going 12-of-13 from the free throw line, Embiid was a helpless bystander in the Raptors' 101-96 win that tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

    Apparently, a mixture of a hot Kawhi Leonard and a cold Embiid is bad medicine for the Sixers.

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    A two-way wrecking ball, Leonard showed the NBA why teams are lining up offering him their kingdom when he becomes a free agent this July.

    A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Leonard disrupted the Sixers' attack by hounding point guard Ben Simmons early on. Late in the game, when Jimmy Butler exposed hints on an explosion, Leonard covered him like a blanket.

    On offense, the 27-year old former Spur plowed through Philly like a vicious tornado, finishing with 14 rebounds and 39 points on an economical yet efficient 12-of-20 shooting from the field. His 3 with 1:01 left to play, gave Toronto a 94-90 lead and killed whatever life was left in Philly's attempted comeback.

    The real beauty about Kawhi's gem was that unlike Embiid, Leonard took care of business without fanfare, without taunting or trash talking, and without cupping his ears to fish for cheers and compliments.

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    LEONARD FOUND A WAY to prevent his team from trailing the series 1-3. Embiid, meanwhile, offered alibis.

    He was sick, he said. Plagued by what team doctors diagnosed as an upper respiratory infection, he had IV fluids at dawn.

    Embiid must have felt awful but it's hard to sympathize when other players had suffered more serious circumstances and still somehow delivered.

    In Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan played in the now legendary "flu game." He was dehydrated, in pain, and could hardly breathe, let alone stand up. He suited up, anyway, and infected the Utah Jazz with a 38-point virus that gave the Chicago Bulls a 3-2 series lead.

    In March 1987, according to a New York Times report, Celtics great Kevin McHale was injured in a Suns game. He played with a broken foot for three months and still averaged 26.1 points an outing.

    The lack of dependability, the easily broken down body parts, are the reasons why the Sixers provided so much financial protection for the franchise when they signed Embiid to a five-year $148 million contract extension last October 2017.

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    Embiid, 27, is making $25.4 million this season, 25 percent more than any Sixer. Scoring 11 points in 35 minutes and hoisting only seven field goals while missing three crucial free throws when the game was on the line doesn't cut it.

    Whether Embiid likes it or not, superstars are measured by a different standard. They are demanded to perform even when illness or injury sometimes diminishes them.

    "If you're going to go 2-for-7, go 2-for-20. That's what we need out of Jo. To always be aggressive," Butler told ESPN.

    Sixers Sixth Man Mike Scott agreed. "If he's suited up, he's out there to play. Can't take seven shots."

    Only Embiid can truly explain why he suddenly got gun-shy in Game 4.

    Was it the illness or the nerves?

    This much is sure though. The man who fancies himself as "The Process" stalled like a lazy City Hall paperwork.

    Coach Brown refers to Embiid as the "Crown Jewel."

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    Maybe. But then again, maybe he's just another superstar wannabe who simply doesn't have the jewels when the stakes are at the highest.

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    PHOTO: AP
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