The biggest Celtics free agent signing gets his first significant chance to show why he was worth the full mid-level exception on Wednesday night as the Celtics take on Joel Embiid and the Sixers in a showdown of East heavyweights.
Despite the 4-0 sweep of the Sixers by the C’s last offseason, the team had no answer for Embiid in the series with their center by committee. The All-Star center posted 30 points per game and averaged over 15 free throw attempts per game in the series as Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and company struggled to limit him, even though the offensive supporting cast around him was incredibly limited.
A revamped 2020-21 Sixers roster (9-5 start) has made life easier for Embiid already. With shooters like Seth Curry and Danny Green flanking him, Embiid is shooting a career-high 53 percent from the field already and 39 percent from 3-point range with some newfound spacing. Philly’s offense is still a middle of the road as a whole but that’s largely due to significant absences over the past two weeks due to COVID-19 protocols across the roster. The starting five (115.6 points per 100 possessions, +13 net rating) has been one of the best units in the NBA so far this year.
The Celtics will be without some important firepower on Wednesday night (Jayson Tatum) but the opening game of the back-to-back matchup this week will put to the test Thompson’s value for this team in the middle.
Over the course of his career, Thompson hasn’t been an ‘Embiid stopper', no one in the NBA outside of maybe Marc Gasol in his prime could earn that label. However, defensively, Thompson has held his own in the post far better than any of Boston’s other post defenders on this roster against the imposing scorer. Through seven games over their careers when they matched up head-to-head, Embiid’s numbers are quite ordinary for a player of his caliber.
Embiid vs Thompson: 18.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg
Thompson vs. Embiid: 12.3 ppg, 11.9 rpg
These numbers are skewed somewhat by blowout wins and Embiid suffering an injury earlier in one of these games which