The Philadelphia 76ers hope to avoid a 0-2 start in Wednesday’s second meeting with the Boston Celtics in the ensuing playoff series. A fourth-quarter meltdown told the entire story for a Sixers team that didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with the Celtics in the end. Another loss could potentially bury them in the series against the No. 3-ranked team in the Eastern Conference.
Sixers need Embiid to be a superstar
If the Sixers have any hope of turning the series around, Joel Embiid can’t be the second-best player on the floor. He has to demand the ball and take over games when his team really needs him. That’s the only thing separating him from guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. There are too many times when he simply looks like a strong contributor instead of the star of the team. It has to be the latter for the team to even have a fighting chance.
He even alluded to such after the game.
“I’ve got to do more. I got one job to do, to carry us,” Embiid said, via ESPN.com. “I’m going to need my teammates to help but I need to do more. I’ve got to take more shots, I’ve got to be more aggressive, I’ve got to help my teammates.”
We’ll see if the All-Star center is ready to make that leap in Wednesday’s rematch. The Sixers actually did a great job of limiting the Celtics to 42.2 percent shooting, which is something they desperately need to carry over into Game 2.
But it’s also hard to envision a team that ranks fifth in the league in offensive efficiency shooting so poorly a second time out. Turnovers are another issue the Sixers will have to pay close attention to in this meeting considering how costly they were on Monday. The team turned the ball over 18 times as opposed to only seven for the Celtics.
Embiid being more aggressive is key in sparking the Sixers offensively. Even if he can’t get a shot going, he can at least draw contact down low and get to the free throw line. The Sixers rank in the bottom-half of the league in average free throw attempts—a startling statistic for a team with Embiid and Ben Simmons (now injured) on the roster.
Celtics suffer a big blow with the loss of Hayward
Every Celtics fan will trudge into Wednesday’s game against the Sixers with knots in their stomach. It won’t be because they’re fearful of the team losing in the first round of the playoffs, but it’s more to do with their dwindling championship chances after losing Gordon Hayward with an ankle injury.
The team’s star forward is reportedly out for the next four weeks with a Grade III sprain. It’s the worst news possible for an organization that has dealt with injuries all season. That means even more pressure will be heaped on Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown to carry the team down the stretch.
But don’t expect any sympathy from Embiid as the lone star for the Sixers.
Even though the Celtics came away with the series-opening win, the Sixers showed some serious fight defensively. It isn’t surprising considering they rank eighth in the league in defensive efficiency and have limited their last three opponents to an average 43.5 percent shooting. The Celtics have to do a better job of getting buckets, especially with Hayward’s 17.5-point scoring average no longer part of the equation.
More importantly, they can’t lose their defensive identity in this series. If the Sixers figure out a way to get going offensively, it will be a long night for the Celtics.