Last season, Joel Embiid captivated NBA fans with his stellar play, averaging a remarkable 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in just 25.4 minutes per contest.
Although his minutes were limited, Embiid had a massive usage rate and filled the stat sheet on a nightly basis. Very few teams had any answers for him on either end of the court.
While he only played 31 total games over three possible full regular seasons due to lower body injuries, the dynamic 7-footer showed off his ridiculous upside and, in the process, became a beloved figure.
On January 27 of last season, the big man posted 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting with seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and three steals against the Houston Rockets. It ended up being the final game of his rookie campaign, as he was then held out due to a torn meniscus.
On Wednesday, fresh off of that memory, Embiid posted 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting with six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal in just 25 minutes against the Rockets.
For any normal player, that output would have been considered a failure for the opposing defense, but Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni had a different perspective: he was proud.
Not only was he proud, but the coach gave other NBA teams a clue about how to possibly keep the big man in check. While it took a miraculous buzzer-beating three-pointer by Eric Gordon to ultimately win the game, D’Antoni’s answer for limiting Embiid’s impact was simple.
Run, run and run some more.
“I thought he got tired,” said D’Antoni about Embiid after the game, per Rahul Lal of Rocketswire.com. “We just told [Clint Capela] we need to run him every time because he’s good. The only weapon we have is to run and lean on him, make him work for his shots. Tarik Black came in and put his body on him and that wears you out. Your legs get tired. He’ll get over that as he gets a little older and plays more minutes.”
As one of the fastest-paced teams in the NBA, Houston frequently forces their opponent to play out of their comfort zone. As a whole, the Rockets offense sputtered in their narrow win on Wednesday, but nonetheless, it seemed as though their breakneck pace affected Embiid.
It’s worth mentioning that after the game, Embiid expressed frustration about his limited playing time, not mentioning the concept of fatigue.
"Everybody's got to stop being scared," Embiid told reporters, per AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA TODAY Sports. "I'm not made of glass. That's basketball. You've got to make some plays. Like I said, I'm not made of glass. You've just got to play.”
Since no team has been able to slow him down, it remains to be seen if anyone else will employ the same strategy that D’Antoni and the Rockets did.