In case you somehow missed it, Joel Embiid was injured on March 28th and the Philadelphia 76ers have continued their winning streak without the big man. However, in Monday night’s 113-103 loss to the Heat, the franchise’s longest single season winning streak ended and the absence of Embiid was clear.
In a slow and frustrating game, it was the post presence that the Sixers needed the most. There were obvious issues that included poor shooting and foul trouble, but Embiid would have been the perfect counter to the Heat’s deliberate tempo and physical play.
If there is anything that the team is supposed to be better at with the second-year center on the bench, it is speed. The team can play fast and play in transition better than anyone else in the league. Prior to Embiid’s injury, the Sixers averaged just 11.1 fast break points per game, which was good enough for 17th in the league. In the final eight games of the regular season, Philadelphia ranked sixth in the NBA with 16.0 fast break points per game.
However, in the two playoff games against Miami, the Sixers are averaging just 10.5 fast break points per game. The Heat’s length (not to mention rebounding) has been causing problems to Philadelphia’s transition game. If the opponent is able to get back on defense and get set, the Sixers need Embiid to be a part of the offense.
Ersan Ilyasova started at center for Brett Brown’s team and finished with his second consecutive double-double. He had six offensive rebounds but the veteran cannot be expected to contribute on defense like a true big man. Philadelphia continued to switch on defense but Ilyasova often found himself in front of players like James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk which would not end well.
Without a true rim protector in the game, the Heat were able to spread out the floor on offense and saw open driving lanes throughout the night. Many of Miami’s open looks from the outside or trips to the free throw line was in direct result of a defense that had to recklessly collapse on to an empty paint. The Heat finished with just nine made 3-pointers but that was still two more than the Sixers.
Speaking of spacing, the visitors were able to expand their defense in order to reach Philadelphia’s shooters on Monday. With Embiid on the court, the Sixers are shooting 1.8 percent better from deep this season. (This may not sound like a lot but 1.8 percent separates the league’s 2nd best shooting team from the league’s 17th best shooting team.)
When Embiid is in the paint, it obviously forces opponents to focus on the big man. The Sixers are averaging 7.9 more points in the paint since the center’s injury. On Monday, the 76ers took 10 3-pointers with a defender within least four feet of the shooter, according to NBA.com, which was seven more than they attempted in Game 1. Defenses are focusing in on the perimeter which has forced Ben Simmons and Co. to get the ball into the paint. In Monday night’s loss, Philadelphia scored 56 points in the paint, which was 24 more than the Heat and 5 more than the team did on Saturday.
Scoring on the inside is important but it is not where the Sixers will win unless Joel Embiid is in the game. And nothing was more painfully clear when the team’s shooters went cold on Monday. The most glaring hole that the injury has left is a go-to scorer. When the Sixers needed a basket during the loss to the Heat, the offense looked lost because of Miami’s stifling defense. Embiid’s ability to get the ball inside, draw a foul or even just lure the defense has certainly be missed and will be welcomed with open arms when he (hopefully) returns on Thursday.