The play-in games are a distant memory and the playoff picture has materialized into the ultimate win-or-go home scenario.
South Philly vs. Everybody
The 76ers began their championship run with a matchup over a familiar division foe in the Nets. There is a lot of recent history between the two organizations, however after four games, the first round has come and gone with Philadelphia marching forward. This is a tournament that will last several weeks, and the first team to 16 wins will take home the Larry O’Brien trophy and all the bragging rights.
There are three keys for Philadelphia in order to advance:
- Star Power
- Supporting cast
- Happy and Healthy
The biggest and most important factor in every successful team is that they have and will remain healthy enough to work together and contribute at a high level. Everyone has reached the 82-game marker and the majority of the remaining teams have nagging injuries, as players are playing with and through some type of pain.
Joel Embiid has played well enough to win the MVP for a few consecutive years. We all understand this is a regular-season award — nonetheless, important to him and the fans. What does have the utmost importance is the availability of Embiid and his overall ability to do what he does best.
He has been hampered by a number of things in the playoffs over the years. There is no need to revisit those difficult times, however it is something that he has even acknowledged in stating, “All I ask is no freak injuries, I think I’m due for a big run...and my team, too.”
Embiid entered this postseason with no limitations yet he finds himself in an all-too-familiar situation as the team awaits a second-round opponent. The Nets played a rough and tumble style of play to agitate Embiid, and while it worked in spurts, the biggest concern was the fall that caused the knee injury. He averaged 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists, while shooting 54.8 from the field, in a total of 66 games, so he needs to be on the floor more often than not.
His stats from Game 1 show that he is ready and willing to do whatever it takes with a team-high 26 points, while shooting a perfect 11-11 from the free-throw line. The sweep provides some time for everyone to stay loose, get treatment, and rest for what lies ahead.
James Harden has long desired to play for Philadelphia in an effort to suit up with Joel Embiid. The former league MVP feels confident that this is the best place to win a title and put a stamp on what has been a stellar career.
What unfolded in the playoffs last year should be enough motivation for Harden to rise above and push further than the previous postseason. He came into the series against the Nets as the league leader in assists with 10.7 per game. This is his time to shine and more significantly, score the ball. The 76ers need to continue to get baskets early and often and Harden is someone who can get hot and make teams pay from the inside and out. Harden is one of the all-time great players of this generation and this is his stage to finally align with his hoop dreams and win it all with one of the best 1-2-punches in the association.
Harden finished the first match with 23 points and a game-high 13 assists, marking his third 20-point, 10-assist playoff game as a 76er. He’ll need to improve from inside the arc in the second round, but the looks were there against Brooklyn.
Philadelphia has big names on the roster. Nonetheless, they will win and lose as a unit. One of the best things about having exceptional talent in Embiid and Harden, is surrounding them with people who can not only help bring out their best, but also work together to move mountains and proceed over the coming months. Philadelphia can score, and now they need to focus on defense and team rebounds. These are the adjustments from game-to-game, series-to-series that have to be made in order to survive. The 76ers finished with 3,356 total rebounds, putting them at 26th out of 30 NBA teams. Embiid has to set the tone and this team will follow his lead. Opponents out-rebounded Philadelphia during the regular season with an average of 41.2 per contest. The 76ers have the personnel who can get the job done on the glass as well as make plays defensively to disrupt the opposition.
Throughout the opening round, the Sixers won the battle on the boards and they moved the ball well offensively, as Embiid found his open teammates when the Nets looked to send a double-team. Embiid pulled down 19 rebounds in Game 2, and Paul Reed, who started in place of Joel Embiid for Game 4, hauled in 15 boards, with eight off the offensive glass.
Tobias Harris benefited from the Nets defensive decisions as he provided consistency from the perimeter and around the basket. P.J. Tucker contributed with key shots, defense and rebounds. This group continues to show how important it is for Philadelphia to continue playing with a total team mindset.
The rebounds lead to less possessions for the other team, and the assists have lead to open shots and a big leads.
Philadelphia is playing a simplistic form of basketball, and it could potentially pay off with huge dividends.