Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid figured out how to get to the free-throw line at a high rate this season. In 51 regular-season games, he averaged a career-high of 10.7 free throw attempts per game. When asked about his ability to collect fouls, Embiid explained his "basketball IQ" allows him to outsmart the competition.
“When you talk about drawing fouls, a lot of people, I guess, call it flopping, all that stuff but, the way I say it is it’s about being smarter than your opponent,” said Embiid back in January. “You gotta have a high basketball IQ. I’m talking to the young guys, they’re like, ‘How can we draw fouls? How can we get to the free-throw line?’ and I’m like, ‘You gotta be smart like as soon as you feel the contact, you gotta go through it,' and that’s how you get fouled.”
Although Embiid's an all-around offensive star as he's a three-level scorer, the big man collects a lot of his points visiting the free-throw line. When things aren't going his way from the field, Embiid could always find a way to draw a foul and collect a couple of points quickly. However, in the second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Embiid found it more difficult to get to the line consistently.
Following Philly's Game 6 win on the road against the Hawks, Embiid sounded off on the referees during his postgame press conference. As the big man attempted just four free throws throughout his 38 minutes on the court, he felt the game wasn't being called evenly as the Sixers picked up 24 fouls compared to Atlanta's 22 last Friday.
"I told [the referees] they had to call it both ways," Embiid explained after the game. "We had a bunch of guys; whether it’s Ben or Tobias, in foul trouble, I just felt like he wasn’t calling it both ways. Especially because of the minimal contact that they get on their point guard. And when it comes to us, we don’t get the same thing. I just want it called both ways. If you’re gonna call like nothing on their point guard, it should be the same way [for us]."
In addition to Embiid's lack of foul calls in his favor, he also picked up a technical foul due to his on-court altercation with Hawks forward John Collins. Although the altercation didn't get too out of hand, Embiid and Collins were issued double-techs, and the Sixers' center received a fine in the mail hours before Sunday's Game 7.
After a tough battle back and forth between the Hawks and the Sixers, Atlanta came out victorious. While Embiid credited the Hawks for coming out and defeating the Sixers, Philly's All-Star couldn't wrap up his final postgame press conference of the season without calling out the officials one more time.
“There’s a lot of stuff that went wrong,” Embiid said. “Whether it’s they can foul me all they want, whether it is the officiating tonight. You got guys fouling, putting the hands up, me going for a dunk, and they don’t call anything. The last three games, it’s been the same way over and over. Then, I get fined last game for having my arms out while I’m getting pushed in the freaking back. I got fined just because, I guess, I don’t know why. There’s a lot of stuff that went wrong.”
Embiid made it clear that the Sixers should've been better, and that's the primary reason why they lost. However, it's become apparent that Embiid is under the belief that the referees seemed to have favored the Hawks more than the Sixers towards the final stretch of the series and put the 76ers in a bad spot.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.