NBA playoff dispatches: Joel Embiid fails to mobilize the 76ers


FOX Sports writers provide game insights throughout the NBA Playoffs. Here are her thoughts from Wednesday.

Celtic’s 121, 76’s 87: Joel Embiid fails to wow the ’76ers

It’s been an exciting 24 hours in Joel Embiid country. First, it was announced that he was voted NBA MVP. Then we learned that after a knee sprain sidelined him for the final game of the Philadelphia 76ers’ first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets and Game 1 of their second-round match against the Boston Celtics, he would be returning to the TD Garden Floor Wednesday night for Game 2. It was not quite Willis Reed running out of the tunnel, but you figured the newly crowned MVP, who’s disemboweling through injury to join his teammates on the floor, would inject some juice into the group. Especially after the Sixers electric win in Game 1.

About the…

Early in the game, the Sixers might have been energized by the return of Embiid, but they certainly didn’t look the part when the action started. They couldn’t hit a shot (6-on-30 from deep) and couldn’t stop the Celtics from hitting theirs (20-on-51 on three-pointers). The Celtics dismembered the Sixers, 121-87. The series is now on its way back to Philadelphia where Game 3 will be played on Friday night. And the question that could very well determine the winner of the series is whether the Embiid we saw Wednesday night is the one we’ll be seeing for the next two weeks. Because if you do, the Sixers are done.

The best way to sum up Embiid’s game was that he looked like someone playing with a serious knee injury. He was slow and clumsy. The assertive, aggressive power we’ve come to expect from him was nowhere to be found. He made just nine shots in 27 minutes and hit four. He made eight free throws, hitting seven of them and finishing the game with 15 points, but he didn’t have a single assist and only clinched three rebounds. He blocked five shots, but that was also because the Celtics weren’t afraid to challenge him.

To be clear, none of this is meant as criticism. Embiid is clearly not 100 percent. And he deserves credit for fighting through the injury and all the aches and pains he’s in. But given his looks, it’s fair to ask if the Sixers would have been better off if Embiid had skipped another game and given him two extra days to recover before Game 3.

Because the Sixers are unlikely to get another 45-point breakout from James Harden like they did in Game 1. And by the time they got into the series, most pundits and fans would have identified the Celtics as favorites, meaning the Sixers would always be fighting an uphill battle. To win they need a better version of Embiid. After Game 2, one can wonder if we’ll see that.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Refueling to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Trial in Professional Sports History.”.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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