From one perspective, everything is going well for Philadelphia. The Sixers stole a game in Boston, wresting home-court advantage away from the Celtics in their best-of-seven series. If the Sixers win every one of their home games from here on out, they’re NBA champions. (What could go wrong?) Joel Embiid returned to action in Game 2 after missing two games with a sprained LCL. After the game, Embiid said he felt good, then reportedly experienced no swelling the next day. He was listed as questionable on yesterday evening’s injury report. All signs are pointing up regarding the 2022-23 MVP’s health, who even while working through his rust made a significant difference on the defensive end of the court in his Game 2 return. Hopefully, that contest was like Embiid soaking in a bowl of white vinegar and the rust is now gone.
Yet, there are concerns, which are to be expected after losing by 34 points in Game 2. For the third time this postseason, James Harden performed poorly when playing on only one day’s rest; he shot 2-of-14 from the field on Wednesday night. Harden’s one-day rest splits were fine during the season, and his Game 2 line doesn’t look quite as bad if two of his three-point attempts that went halfway down hadn’t spun out, so maybe this is just a small sample size non-concern. Or maybe at this age he needs more rest between games with the ramped-up intensity of the postseason. Can’t we pause the series for a few days to allow James to fly to Vegas for a day and come back?
Tyrese Maxey has found his offensive stride after struggling against Boston during the season, but he’s still getting hunted defensively and has found himself in foul trouble at various points during both games this series. P.J. Tucker was so shot-averse in the first two games that at least one respected basketball mind is pondering if the SIxers might be better served moving De’Anthony Melton into the starting lineup. Georges Niang is still a part of the rotation, and well...
First half lead was as large as 12, you can cut the lead down to 4 with 1 minute till the half. Niang needs to shoot the damn ball (only reason he's out there) or swing to the open Tobias. He does neither, leading to an easy Derrick White corner three in transition, lead now 10 https://t.co/TMfnLhRpED pic.twitter.com/uKQy5hb5ik— ً (@_itsnotmatt) May 4, 2023
But hey, enough doom and gloom. We have a playoff game on South Broad and the Sixers just need to protect home court a few times to banish the second-round hex and the stranglehold Boston has had over our collective psyches for the last decade-plus. Maybe a hometown crowd will convince the refs to blow the whistle on Marcus Smart for jackknifing into people’s legs. Maybe the Sixers will get to shoot a free throw before the third quarter. The house will be rocking tonight, showering Joel with MVP calls as a matter of fact rather than wish fulfillment for the first time. We’ve had a lot of games that build up to a night like tonight; let’s make it count.