Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid said getting to play alongside the NBA's biggest superstars during the fourth quarter of the 2020 All-Star Game on Sunday helped spur his monster performance against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night.
"But the All-Star Game, just proving I'm here, I belong, and being the best player in the world, I just intend to keep coming out every single night and just play hard and trying to get wins and just go out and try to win a championship," Embiid told reporters.
He finished Thursday's contest with 39 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks in a 112-104 Sixers overtime win.
"He's the toughest player in the league to match up with, but we don't talk about him the way we talk about Luka [Doncic], Giannis [Antetokounmpo], Anthony Davis, James [Harden]—we don't ever say that about him," Barkley said. "It's frustrating for me, because I picked the Sixers to get to the Finals. They ain't got no chance."
Shaq added: "We're telling you, 'You can be great. You ain't playing hard enough.' ... Do you want to be great or do you want to be good? If you want to be good, keep doing 22 points. You want to be great, give me 28, give me 30. You want to be great, watch Giannis—he wants to be great."
To his credit, the 25-year-old Cameroon native accepted the criticism and vowed to improve.
"Maybe they're right. Maybe. I do think they're right," Embiid said. "I think I need to be more aggressive and just look to impose myself and look to dominate. I think the whole season I haven't done that, and you can see the way it has affected my efficiency and my stats, so I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominating."
Embiid was the best player on the floor by a significant margin Thursday with both teams' starting point guards, Ben Simmons (back) and Kyrie Irving (shoulder), sidelined by injuries.
The Sixers, who sit fifth in the Eastern Conference at 35-21, are going to need more performances like that to climb the standings and then make some noise in the playoffs.
Philadelphia has rarely looked like a true championship contender this season despite the talent to reach that level. Perhaps the All-Star Game was the turning point Embiid needed to take his game to another level, which would be a major step to getting the 76ers in the title conversation.