76ers

Joel Embiid shows Celtics why he's an All-Star

Joel Embiid shows Celtics why he's an All-Star

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BOSTON — The Sixers narrowly avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics with a 89-80 win Thursday night.

The Kyrie Irving-less Celtics cut the Sixers’ 21-point lead down to seven with two minutes to play, a margin that seemed closer because of Boston’s swarming defense.

The Sixers went scoreless for two minutes before T.J. McConnell hit a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left. They snapped a seven-game losing skid at TD Garden dating back to their last road victory there on April 4, 2014.

The Sixers are back above .500 at 21-20. The Celtics dropped to 34-12. 

• On the night Joel Embiid was named an All-Star starter (see story), he posted his 19th double-double and 24th 20-point game of the season. Embiid finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes.

• Celtics leading scorer Irving did not play because of a sore left shoulder.

“It’s nothing too crazy,” Irving said. “It was just giving me a little discomfort over the last few weeks. I’ve been playing through it.”

Irving averaged 25.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists in three games against the Sixers this season.

• The Celtics struggled offensively in the second quarter (13 points). The Sixers held them to 32 points in the first half, the fewest first-half points by the Celtics against the Sixers since Dec. 28, 2012. Overall, the Celtics’ 80 points were a season low.

• The Sixers led the Celtics, 71-53, after the third quarter. In all of their storied meetings, this was only the fourth time in Sixers history they held the Celtics to 53 points or less through the third.

• The Celtics entered the night tied for eighth-fewest turnovers per game (13.3). They uncharacteristically committed 15 in the first half alone (19 on the night).

• Dario Saric added 16 points and six rebounds. Ben Simmons recorded eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.

• McConnell gave another boost off the bench (15 points). He scored nine points (4 for 4 from the field) in the third alone.

• Bigs Al Horford and Marcus Morris led the Celtics with 14 points each. Jaylen Brown broke out of a scoreless first half to finish with 12 points.

• Justin Anderson saw increased minutes (16) in the absence of JJ Redick (left fibula injury). Jerryd Bayless started at shooting guard.

• Two-way contract player James Young returned to Boston, where he spent his first three NBA seasons with the Celtics.

Why Sixers should want the Heat, not the Celtics, in first round of NBA playoffs

Why Sixers should want the Heat, not the Celtics, in first round of NBA playoffs

The Sixers beat the Celtics three out of four times in the regular season, so the conventional wisdom suggests that Brett Brown should try everything in his power to engineer a first-round matchup with Boston.

He could even rest some starters and drop a couple winnable seeding games in Orlando in hopes of finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Then you get Boston in a No. 3 vs. No. 6 first-round series and avoid top-seeded Milwaukee until the Eastern Conference Finals.

Nice theory, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you it’s totally wrong.

Instead of an early date with Boston, the Sixers should be angling to end up in a 4 vs. 5 series against their old buddy Jimmy Butler and the Heat.

But wait, didn’t the Sixers lose the season series to Miami, 3-1? 

Indeed, they did.

But the thing is, the playoffs are not the regular season. And this Miami team is very young and not playoff-tested. 

After Jimmy Butler, many of their other rotation players have little to no postseason experience. Bam Adebayo has played five playoff games. Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson will all be making their playoff debuts. 

Miami lives on those young guys making threes to space the floor for Butler and Adebayo. We’ll see if those shots fall in their first playoff series.

As for Miami’s recent additions, Jae Crowder brings toughness and veteran savvy, but there’s also a reason he’s on his fourth team in the last three seasons. Expecting him to be a playoff difference-maker is asking a lot.

Andre Iguodala obviously became a playoff legend with the Warriors. He’s also 36 years old and has averaged 4.4 points in 14 games since joining the Heat. Maybe Erik Spoelstra is just saving Iguodala for big moments in the playoffs. I’ll take my chances.

Also, while you may think that Joel Embiid matches up great with Boston, the truth is that his numbers were significantly better against Miami. In four games against the Heat this season, Embiid averaged 27.3 points and shot 56.3 percent from the field. 

It makes sense. The 6-foot-9 Adebayo is simply too small to deal with Embiid. Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk are too slow. 

Embiid’s stats against Boston? 21.3 points per game and 39.1 percent shooting from the field. He had one monster game against the Celtics (38 points on 12 for 21 shooting) and one awful game (11 points on 1 of 11 shooting). 

Boston is also simply a more complete team than Miami, with a plus-6.2 point differential per game compared to plus-3.3 for the Heat. The Celtics have three players who average at least 20 points per game (Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown) and another in Gordon Hayward who’s capable of going for 20 on any given night. That’s a lot more firepower than Miami brings to the table.

Also, Tatum emerged as one of the NBA’s best scorers in the last two months before the COVID-19 shutdown, averaging 27.9 points on 48.8 shooting from the field and 45.5 percent shooting from three-point range. His becoming an efficient, volume scorer makes defending the Celtics much more difficult. 

If you don’t double him, he goes off. If you double him, the Celtics have scorers all over the floor. And unlike Miami, those guys have extensive playoff experience.

The Sixers certainly could beat the Celtics in a playoff series. I wouldn’t be shocked. Playing Kemba Walker against Philadelphia’s big lineups exposes Boston defensively and maybe Embiid just goes off against Boston’s duo of Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter.

But Boston is going to be an extremely tough out. They can score, they can defend and Tatum’s transformation into a go-to guy gives them another dimension. Marcus Smart is one of the best defenders in the league, regardless of position. Many of those guys have been through the playoff wars. 

Unlike the previous two seasons, the Sixers won’t have an easy first-round playoff opponent this year. Miami would certainly be formidable. Butler would be a problem. But I’ll take my chances against that young Heat squad over a Boston team with better scorers and more playoff experience.

I think Miami, Milwaukee and the Boston/Toronto winner presents an easier path to reach the NBA Finals than having to beat Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee. 

You’ve got to beat the Bucks either way. But you can’t beat the Bucks unless you make it to that series. 

Survive and advance.

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Sixers' Joel Embiid jokes he'll lose 50 pounds because of food at Disney World

Sixers' Joel Embiid jokes he'll lose 50 pounds because of food at Disney World

The Sixers departed on Thursday for life in the NBA’s quasi-bubble in Orlando.

They stepped on board their flight with a variety of styles. Joel Embiid’s all-white, hazmat suit look was by far the most unique. 

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If you need me I’ll be in the bubble 😤 📲

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⚫️⚪️

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The NBA’s health and safe protocols mandate that a player or staff member stays in their individual hotel room — the Sixers are at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel — while the result of the coronavirus test they took at arrival is returned. Another test then must be taken at least 24 hours after that initial test and also come back as negative for one to advance to Phase 4, which includes team activities such as practice. 

Not every player in Orlando has been a fan of the food during this quarantine period and photos like the one Nuggets guard Troy Daniels shared were not the most appetizing. 

This prompted The New York Times’ Marc Stein to report that “player meals won’t look like airline trays after the first 48 hours.”

As the Sixers transition to the next stage of this unprecedented process, Embiid showed his meal on Instagram with some characteristic humor. 

Yes, that last photo is really Embiid, at a Basketball without Borders camp in 2011.

Though Embiid said Tuesday he doesn’t believe in the NBA’s plan to resume play and laid out a number of concerns, he seems to be having as much fun as he can under the unusual circumstances. 

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