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Sixers’ Joel Embiid uses iconic photo from playoff exit as motivation

Joel Embiid, Sixers

When then-Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard hit a game-winning jump shot at the buzzer of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, it produced some of the sport’s most iconic photos of the 21st century. On the receiving end of Leonard’s heroics was Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, and the Sixers star embraced his infamy during this past summer.

“All summer, every time someone posted that picture of me and Kawhi staring at the ball hanging on the rim, I didn’t even click away,” Embiid said to The Players’ Tribune. “I wanted it to be burned into my brain as motivation.”

Embiid returned to Philadelphia this season knowing that he wouldn’t need to defeat Leonard in order to reach the NBA Finals, as the league’s reigning NBA Finals MVP departed for the Clippers.

Embiid, on the other hand, returned to the 76ers with Jimmy Butler no longer on his team, but still with the aspirations of reaching the heights that Leonard did during his lone campaign in Toronto.

Currently, Philadelphia’s All-Star big man has been sidelined following surgery on his left hand. He is expected to return sooner rather than later, although his Sixers have still managed to get off to a 25-16 start entering play Wednesday, which has placed them sixth in the Eastern Conference.

The margin of error between the No. 2 and 6 slot has been thin, as just three and a half games separate the Sixers and Celtics, with Philadelphia having claimed each of the first three meetings between the two teams this season.

Embiid’s title aspirations remain readily apparent, no matter where he derives the motivation from.