The Sixers are a couple of days away from their games meaning something again.
They played well in their final seeding game Friday night, blowing out the Rockets, 134-96, and will begin their first-round series vs. the Celtics on Monday at 6:30 p.m. (see series schedule).
Here are observations on Friday’s game:
Brett Brown was asked pregame whether there was any reason for concern with Embiid’s right hand. The All-Star center left Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors after having his hand whacked by Marc Gasol and appeared to be in discomfort. He had X-rays that night which were negative.
“Not concern the way that you would think that I would say, ‘Yes, there is concern.’” Brown said. “I don’t have concern it’s going to restrict him from playing against the Boston Celtics. I don’t have concern that it’s going to minimize his effectiveness.”
Embiid was listed as questionable with left ankle soreness and the decision that he’d play wasn’t official until about 30 minutes before tip-off, after he’d gone through pregame warmups. The desire to avoid any sort of unnecessary layoff evidently outweighed the notion of exercising special caution with his health.
He started the game aggressively against Houston’s ultra-small lineup, scoring seven points within the first five minutes. There was, however, cause for slight worry when he grabbed at his right hand late in the first quarter and checked out of the game. He returned at the start of the second period, played 23 minutes and finished with 14 points and six rebounds.
His decision-making when double teamed was less precise than in the early seeding games and he turned it over five times. That’s not worthy of much examination in a meaningless game, but Embiid will have to “quarterback the gym” effectively when the Celtics inevitably send help defenders his way.
The Sixers’ chances of beating Boston sure don’t look great unless Embiid is healthy and playing very well. Embiid will hope this is the first postseason of his career when he can check off both those boxes.
There was a lot to like about the first half for the Sixers, who had a 71-47 lead at the break. Embiid, Tobias Harris, Alec Burks and Furkan Korkmaz all scored in double figures.
Burks’ emergence as an enterprising scorer, solid ball handler and sensible facilitator off the bench was one of the best seeding game developments for the Sixers. Those were all traits the Sixers knew he had when they acquired the 29-year-old from the Warriors in February, and he’s showcased them at a high level in Disney World.
As a team, the Sixers shot 18 for 38 from three-point range in the game and ended their eight seeding games with a 41.6 percent mark from long distance.
Josh Richardson was the primary defender on James Harden. Though the MVP finalist scored 27 points and had 10 assists, he turned it over seven times and didn’t get much help from his supporting cast. The Rockets were without Russell Westbrook, who is sidelined by a right quad sprain.
Houston went on a 24-11 run to start the second half. There was an odd exchange early in the third quarter when Embiid, frustrated after not receiving a call against Harden in the post, gave the eight-time All-Star a shove with his right arm to pick up his fifth foul. Harden was then the one called for a technical, apparently for tossing the ball in Embiid’s direction. It was not a prudent sequence from Embiid.
A lingering rotation question
The Sixers’ first two substitutions were Burks for Shake Milton and Korkmaz for Embiid. Matisse Thybulle and Mike Scott were the other two bench players to appear in the first quarter before Embiid’s brief stint on the bench at the end of the period.
Glenn Robinson III missed Friday’s game with a left hip pointer, and that injury means the team’s rotation is not entirely certain. He first hurt his hip in the Sixers’ second scrimmage, returned for games against Portland and Phoenix, then sat out the final two seeding contests. On Tuesday, Robinson said he was still feeling the injury at times when he did specific things like talk and laugh. Brown on Friday said Robinson’s situation was “a little up in the air right now.”
Scott is a veteran who's helpful to have available in the postseason, but Robinson’s perimeter defense could be valuable against Boston’s talented wings, including Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It’s also quite possible Korkmaz’s defense could be problematic vs. the Celtics, which might be another route to Robinson (if healthy) receiving substantial playoff minutes. Brown endorsed Korkmaz’s defense Wednesday, but it’s fair to wonder whether he’s equipped to play Boston.
To Korkmaz’s credit, he’s playing with ample confidence and has shown he can occasionally swing games with his shotmaking when that’s the case.
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