Embiid vs. the World – Playoff preview of 76ers first round matchup
When the NBA chose to shut down basketball operations in early March, I imagine the Philadelphia 76ers actually breathed a sigh of relief. The Sixers began their season with high expectations, hoping the new acquisitions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson would prove to be just the complimentary pieces that stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons needed to realize Philadelphia’s dream of a championship. Instead, a season that can best be described as “rocky” ensued. Embiid was dominant for stretches and seemed to disappear for others. Horford had clearly lost a step athletically and Richardson wasn’t displaying the two-way prowess that the Sixers needed to replace last year’s Jimmy Butler minutes. Simmons was a marvel defensively and an unstoppable force on fast breaks but still hadn’t worked an outside shot into his game. Worst of all, the Sixers had lost Simmons to injury just before the shutdown.
Fast forward to the NBA’s Orlando bubble and…nothing of much significance has changed. Although Simmons joined the team in the bubble and was nominally healthy, he now requires surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee. His timetable is uncertain but he absolutely will not be suiting up for the 2020 playoffs. Below are some key storylines for the first round matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics.
Blast from the past of the 2017 Draft
As the sixth seeded Sixers prepare to battle the third seeded Celtics, it’s hard not to think about their trade in the 2017 draft. Boston owned the first pick and chose to trade down to spot number three and a future first round pick of Philadelphia’s. Markelle Fultz, the Sixers selection, now plays for the Orlando Magic and while he flashed potential this year, it wasn’t for the Sixers. Meanwhile, Boston’s selection of Jayson Tatus at the third spot looks better and better every game. The forward elevated his game once again in year three and managed to make his first all-star game appearance.
Embiid vs. the World
Since Ben Simmons opted to embrace the new age lifestyle of “positionless basketball” and play both point guard and power forward, Embiid only shouldered the load in the paint by himself for stretches of games. Now, he has a chance to show everyone what he is capable of on the biggest stage. Yes, Horford will still get significant minutes, but he has the range to step back behind the three point line and keep the lane clear for Embiid. Simmons’ injury is by no means positive for the 76ers, but to look on the bright side this will be a terrific opportunity to gauge if Embiid can be the type of consistently dominant franchise player to build around for the future. “Consistent” is the key word there. Fortuitously, the Celtics strength as a basketball team is through their three forwards (Taytum, Brown, and Hayward) and Embiid should have a feast with Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter guarding him.
Last gasp for Brett Brown?
Critics of this 76ers team have often pointed to Coach Brett Brown as the piece that needs to change. He is in an undeniably tough spot with his primary ball handler and best defender out, but an uncompetitive series could be all it takes for the Sixers to move on. He still believes in his team and expects them to battle hard during this playoff series. Recently, he mentioned the possibility of adding Matisse Thybull to the starting lineup. Although a rookie, Thybull is a magnificent defender and would help immensely with guarding Boston’s aforementioned forwards.
I expect Embiid to be virtually unguardable this series. That being said, he has a history of tiring quickly when playing big minutes, especially in playoff games. The Sixers have remained a scrappy bunch on defense with Simmons and will fight hard but I’m taking the Celtics in 6.