Preview: Joel Embiid, Sixers look to take commanding 2-0 series lead tonight in Boston
The Philadelphia 76ers, led by James Harden shocked the basketball world on Monday night, stealing Game 1 against the Boston Celtics on their home court 119-115 to take a 1-0 series lead.
Tonight, the Sixers are back in the TD Garden for Game 2 against the Boston Celtics and Joel Embiid should be playing basketball after officially winning the NBA MVP Award last night.
Shams sent out a tweet earlier today saying that Embiid told his teammates that he was “back” after winning the award last night and that barring any setbacks, tonight he will be playing in Boston.
To Note: In Embiid’s MVP Press Conference, he said that he wants to play and he’ll see if he gets the green light from doctors before the game, but if he doesn’t play, he’s confident in his teammates getting the job done.
Joel Embiid MVP Press Conference
Really amazing press conference. Give it a watch when you have the time.
As for tonight, who the hell knows if Embiid will be cleared to play but I certainly am feeling optimistic.
Regardless of Embiid’s status, the Sixers will look to go right for the jugular of the Boston Celtics tonight and bring a 2-0 series lead back to South Philadelphia for Game 3 on Friday night.
James Harden gave us one of his best postseason performances in his historic NBA career in Game 1, dropping 45 points on 17-of-30 shooting from the floor.
Harden knocked down seven three pointers and the last one came as a dagger with just 8.7 seconds left on the clock to secure the win for the Sixers.
JAMES HARDEN DAGGER
Originally tweeted by NBA (@NBA) on May 2, 2023.
Sixers Weathered the Storm in Game 1
In addition to Harden’s 45 points, Tyrese Maxey (26) and Tobias Harris (18) combined for 44 as Paul Reed, filling the starting center roll scored 10 points with 13 rebounds in the win. De’Anthony Melton helped weather the storm for the Sixers in the first half of Game 1, scoring 17 points while drilling five three pointers.
Each performance helped the Sixers survive a very strong first half offensive effort from the Boston Celtics and if it wasn’t for James Harden’s masterclass, Jayson Tatum’s 39-point, 11 rebound performance would have captured the headlines for Game 1.
Along with Tatum, Jaylen Brown scored 23 points while Malcom Brogdon scored 20 but really, that was all the Celtics had to offer in the first game. In the second half of Game 1 however, Tatum was held to 3-of-11 shooting while Brown only attempted three total field goals.
Not exactly close-out production the Celtics needed from their top two players.
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The Return of Joel Embiid?
The Celtics definitely have a depth problem and that presents a clear advantage for the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 2 tonight, even more so if Embiid returns. While losing three out of four games during the regular season to the Celtics, Joel Embiid dominated Boston, averaging 36.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists.
To put it as simply as possible, Al Horford or really anyone on the Celtics roster cannot slow down Embiid.
I can’t get over the fact that Boston shot nearly 80% from the floor in the first half of Game 1 and still entered halftime with just a 3-point lead. They torched the Sixers’ defense in the paint throughout the game and shot 58.7% from the floor on the night.
Still, that wasn’t enough to beat James Harden and the Sixers.
The two key reasons is that the Celtics lost the turnover battle in Game 1 by a margin of 10 (16 to 6) and connected on just 10-of-26 attempts from beyond the arc.
As for the Sixers, they were able to counter the Boston attack by shooting 50.6% from the floor while hitting 17-of-38 attempts from three point range. Harden and the Sixers offensive followed the Atlanta Hawks game plan in the first round of the playoffs and took advantage of favorable switches from the Celtics defense.
Here’s what Harden was able to do to Boston in Game 1.
Game 2 Adjustments With or Without Embiid
You would have to assume there will be a different game plan in place tonight. The drop coverage the Celtics ran on on Harden did not work in Game 1 and going back to the same game plan would be insane.
Without Embiid, the Celtics will likely try to slow down Harden which will leave Sixers’ wing players with open shots along the perimeter.
The Sixers can counter any changes by balancing out the scoring and relying more on Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey to capitalize on open looks at the basket.
Assuming Harris and Maxey can score 20-25+ without Embiid on the court, Harden won’t have to jump in a time machine and drop 40+ for the Sixers to win.
It would be a huge help for the offense if someone on the Sixers not named De’Anthony Melton contributed off the bench. Both Jalen McDaniels and PJ Tucker didn’t score a single point and Georges Niang finished the night with three points on 1-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Sixers will need to spread the ball around while playing with a fast-paced tempo while making quick decisions on the offensive side of the court. If they can control the tempo of the game, they should have a chance to win tonight while pretty much no one besides me believes they can.
Even with Embiid on the court, who knows how productive he will be in his first game back in nearly two weeks or how much of a load Doc Rivers and company will want to put on him while also trying to keep him as healthy as possible for the rest of the series.
Having Embiid back in the lineup will definitely pressure off Harden and the rest of the Sixers’ offense, while also providing a much needed presence in the paint on defense but there’s no way the Sixers can build a normal game plan around him given his injury and that’s okay.
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The Law of Averages
The Boston Celtics shot lights out in Game 1 and still lost which made winning that game even sweeter. Shooting performances don’t happen like that every night in the NBA and again, the Celtics STILL lost.
Will Harden have another 45+ point performance? Probably not.
That really doesn’t happen every night, even more so in the playoffs, just like Boston’s scoring outburst in the first half.
You STILL have to love the Sixers chances tonight. De’Anthony Melton erupted with five threes (17 points) in the first half of Game 1 and was silent the rest of the night.
Tyrese Maxey was in foul trouble late in the game, while Paul Reed finally came alive in the second half.
Scheme Wars: Doc Rivers vs Joe Mazzula
Doc Rivers did a great job switching between man and matchup-zone defense in Game 1, with the zone defense holding Tatum to just 3-of-11 shooting in the second half.
It’s not often that I would say this but Rivers can easily out coach Boston’s Joe Mazzula and being able to work with different defensive schemes will be of the upmost importance tonight.
Embiid or no Embiid will dominate Game 2 headlines but I really don’t think it matters if he plays either way.
You can also miss me with the “it’s really hard to win six straight playoff games” nonsense and the lazy “Celtics will bounce back in Game 2” narrative that I’ve seen at nauseam all morning.
I literally do not care about any of that.
The Sixers have the depth and veteran leadership to win this game with more weaponry than a fully healthy Celtics team has in their arsenal. Play aggressive and control the pace. Find the open shot. Use the matchup-zone defense to your advantage and limit the damage from Tatum and Brown. If you do that and hang around tonight until the fourth quarter, anything can happen.
Treat tonight like a Game 7 and get that 2-0 series lead at all-costs.