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With Joel Embiid still doubtful, Sixers look to steal another game in Boston

The Sixers will look to do something improbable by taking Game 2 against the Celtics and heading back to Philly up 2-0.

Philadelphia 76ers (119) Vs. Boston Celtics (115) At TD Garden Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Here we are, on the heels of an electric Game 1 performance from the Sixers and James Harden. Whether Joel Embiid plays or not, they’ll have a chance to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Semis against the Celtics.

Coming off a shocking loss, most would expect Boston to adjust. The Sixers stole the Atlanta Hawks’ game plan of getting a favorable switch (most often with the aging Al Horford) and isolating. The Celtics also played dropped coverage nearly the entire game, which was part of the reason Harden caught fire.

On paper, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum had tremendous games. However, the Celtics seemingly went away from Brown who was on fire to start the game. He only logged three field goal attempts in the second half.

Outside of their star duo, the Celtics will need better production from players like Derrick White, Marcus Smart, and at least one of Horford or Robert Williams — especially if Joel Embiid returns. Horford has looked rough defensively, and you can bet the Sixers will continue to exploit that matchup. It’s possible we’ll see more of the Timelord moving forward for better defense, but even that comes at a cost with a lack of floor spacing on offense.

While the Sixers stole a game many expected them to lose, there are several things that they can clean up heading into Game 2. The biggest is probably their defense, where it was essentially a layup line with little resistance. You can’t replace Embiid’s presence on that end, but Paul Reed needs to be more consistent in this area moving forward. There’s a fine line between playing out of control and being too passive, and hopefully Reed can find that sooner rather than later. Look for the Sixers to lean into that zone defense, which is what got them back in the game.

Offensively, it felt like the Sixers did pretty well considering they were missing a big piece. Most of it was Harden isolations, but Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris helped keep things humming. In particular, Harris did a good job at getting to his spots in the midrange area. Both of them had an excellent series against Brooklyn, and it was nice to see their production carry over in a massive game.

De’Anthony Melton has the chance to be the Sixers’ X-factor in this series. Part of the reason Memphis dealt him was for coming up short in the postseason. That hasn’t been the case whatsoever in six playoff games with the Sixers. He’s averaged 12 points per game on excellent efficiency (46.7 percent shooting), while hitting nearly three three-pointers per game on 48.3 percent shooting.

He was a huge part of keeping the Sixers in their first game early on, hitting five threes and playing stellar defense against Boston’s perimeter talent. Guarding the Jay’s is a huge task for both Harris and P.J Tucker, and odds are Melton will need to fill in at times. I don’t expect 17 points from Melton consistently, but it’ll be huge if he can hit threes and make Tatum and Brown work for their shots.

Embid’s availability will overshadow the headlines going into Game 2, but it was nice to see several guys step up. At worst, Embiid sits another game and the Sixers drop Game 2. Most teams will take a split heading home for two consecutive games. Still, it’s hard not to be greedy and hope the Sixers can take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Let’s see if they can get it done.

Game Details

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics

When: 8:00 pm EST, Monday May 3rd

Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts

Watch: TNT

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @LibertyBallers

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