Postseason losses. Fourth-quarter disappearing acts. Dirty plays. A reigning MVP whose value, at least in the playoffs, seems increasingly complicated. And a path past all of that, back to the world of praise, accolades and adulation.

Welcome, Joel Embiid, to an ugly and possibly re-defining reputational crossroads.

On one side sits some much-needed short-term success, even of the mild variety -- enough great play, let's say, to make something of this Knicks vs. 76ers series that currently sees his team in a 3-1 hole. 

On the other side waits a new definition for the Sixers big man, NBA superstar and would-be savior of his long-suffering franchise: An unreliable superstar, mixing playoff disappointments and the kind of head-scratching, non-basketball plays reminiscent of Draymond Green's lesser moments.

That Embiid has reached this point comes from many truths, the nuances of which all will be cast aside, one way or another, by what happens the rest of this series.

Winning cures all things. But losing also has its consequences, and the big man's box scores, hardware and generally stupendous play may not mean much in a few days if he can't guide the Sixers to at least another win or two, and some semblance of respectability.

Yes, Embiid is clearly banged up and in pain, from his aching body to his surgically repaired left knee to the Bell's palsy he's battling through. He is certainly one tough man.

Yes, the Knicks are a sensational basketball team and potent challenger, a first-round reality brought on by Philly's drastic fall in the regular-season standings during Embiid's time out to injury. Losing to them is not in and of itself unforgivable.

And yes, the officials in Game 2 did the Sixers no favors in a series that has been hard fought and very, very close.

But it's also true that hurt people hurt people, and that Embiid, whatever he's dealing with, has been a dirty-shot artist in this series in ways that go beyond mere competitive basketball play. That, coupled with the gathering evidence of his late-game playoff letdowns, has produced an approaching tipping point for how we may well see him after this season.

Embiid has been one of my favorite players for years, but no amount of joy for how he plays the game, respect for his toughness or hope that his skills translate to rings magically conjure a guarantee to save him from himself. The verdict on how we'll see him -- playoff winner or playoff loser, franchise carrier or franchise letdown, the problem or the solution, dirty player or fierce competitor -- will be decided where such questions are always decided. On the court.

There are years to go to set such things in stone. But only a few more games before he'll have to spend the years ahead trying to correct the record on himself rather than setting it himself.

Embiid himself has thrown fuel on the fire. He called out his fanbase after Knicks fans took over Philly's arena, he has pulled from Draymond's playbook of on-court ugliness, and, for much of the most important moments in this series, he has taken a backseat.

Win, or at least come close, and forgiveness and a rewriting of how we remember these facts feels likely. Losing, though, could have very different consequences. 

The list of NBA superstars who have crossed over to (and sometimes back from) the realm of playoff punchlines is long. It's now a very short distance for Embiid to venture there as well.

With the Knicks aiming to win this series in five games, and Jalen Brunson defining himself as the series' best player, you can already hear the narrative around Embiid shifting significantly from just a year ago, when he won his first MVP award. 

That he's a guy that can't win this time of year. A person who threw Sixers fans under the bus instead of himself because Doc Rivers, Ben Simmons and James Harden aren't here any longer to take the brunt of the blame. That he's the game's best active player to never make a conference finals. 

That's one side of the coin. The other, best minted by playoff success, looks vastly different.

Because Embiid is a spectacular player, and he is, indeed, clearly playing through pain after returning from an injury many thought would end his season. In this series, he's averaging 35 points, nine rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. When he played during the regular season, his Sixers team was one of the game's absolute best.

It's easy to make the argument that he's one of the best players on earth, if not its best, and that he'll make good soon enough. Not that long ago, this season, he was dropping 40, 50, even a 70-point game, on what seemed like every other night.

That all feels right. Until the game's biggest playoff moments roll around.

Because it's equally true that, to date, Embiid has not covered himself in glory in enough of those moments to get Philly where the team wants to go.

In the fourth quarters of this series, for example, Embiid has been an astoundingly poor 3-of-18 from the field. Yes, he was outstanding in the fourth quarter of Game 3, with 15 fourth-quarter points bolstered by hitting 12 of his 13 free throws. A game the Sixers, in turn, won.

But in their three losses versus the Knicks, Embiid's fourth quarters have been atrocious -- averaging four points on 2-for-16 shooting.

And this late-game disappearing act, it turns out, is a shockingly familiar problem.

In the fourth quarter of playoff games over the course of his career, Embiid has failed to make a single shot from the floor 21.2% of the time.

That is quite awful. And quite curable. It all rests on Embiid rewriting things with real playoff success.

It's easy to forget now that Nikola Jokic was the MVP who couldn't win in the playoffs, until he wasn't. LeBron James was the star who decamped for Miami only to learn it wasn't enough -- until, of course, in his second year with the Heat everything worked out just fine. And so on.

But there's also James Harden. Or Kevin Durant since he left Golden State. Or Chris Paul. And so on.

Stars who don't win, dim.

Joel Embiid is a stunning star, right now, and he is still good enough to carry this Sixers team, make a series of things against the Knicks, maybe even lead Philly to a stunning comeback. 

He's also capable of lashing out opposing players and his own fans and of making the first three quarters of a huge playoff game feel like fool's gold.

It's time, right now, for Embiid to carry this team -- or he will wake up later this week with the game's most underwhelming superstar playoff resume.