The Sixers’ starting lineup has been preposterously good this postseason.
In 232 non-garbage time playoff possessions, the starters sport a league-best plus-39.6 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass. They’ve scored 143.1 points per 100 possessions.
Those are outlandish numbers, but not shocking in light of the Sixers’ regular-season success. When Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid started during the regular season, the Sixers went 27-5.
Now, unless the right calf strain Green suffered Friday night during the first quarter of the Sixers’ 127-111 Game 3 win over the Hawks is less severe than it appeared, they’ll need to use a second-choice first five.
“Just the next guy has to step up,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m not sure who that’s going to be yet. We’ll go back and watch film and decide who will that be. I’m not ruling Danny out, but I’m pretty much ruling him out. I doubt he plays in the next game.”
Matisse Thybulle initially subbed in for Green. He was bothered by fouls all night, though, giving the Sixers 17 minutes before picking up his sixth with 3:23 left in the game.
Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey each briefly filled the Green spot alongside the Sixers’ four other usual starters in the second quarter.
Furkan Korkmaz opened the second half. He scored 11 points in a momentum-shifting first-quarter burst and had one of his better defensive showings, preventing anything similar from Kevin Huerter on the other side of the ball. He’d be glad to start Game 4 Monday night at State Farm Arena, where the Sixers will be seeking a 3-1 series lead.
“I don’t think there’s any better motivation than starting the game, because you know you need to set the tone with the starters and you need to be good." Korkmaz said. “That makes you motivated, and I like to play with the first unit, too. I’m really used to it and I don’t think it’s going to be so hard for me to adjust. I’ve been doing that all year. I’m excited about it but also, from the other side, I hope Danny is going to recover.”
Korkmaz started all three regular-season games that Green missed and 11 times overall. He averaged 12.7 points on a 56.9 true shooting percentage, 2.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
If Curry can defend Bogdan Bogdanovic as well as he did Friday, Korkmaz could be an attractive option for Rivers in some ways. That’s a significant “if,” though, given the 6-foot-6 Bogdanovic’s size advantage over Curry, as well as his skill. Curry was certainly not a defensive weak spot in Game 3, which enabled Korkmaz to begin the second half defending Tony Snell and being guarded by Trae Young. That’s a situation few NBA players would find troublesome.
Green had not been his best to start this series, shooting 1 for 9 from three-point range and experiencing very prominent defensive difficulties against Young during the first half of Game 1. However, part of what’s made him valuable all year for the Sixers, as basic as it sounds, is that he’s a two-way player. Green knocked down an NBA-high 90 corner three-pointers this season, making 43.9 percent of those attempts. He forced turnovers and facilitated transition offense, recording 92 steals and 56 blocks.
He’s sometimes looked every one of his 33 years when trying to create off the dribble or chase shooters around screens, but offense/defense platoons haven’t generally been required with Green. His intangible, veteran qualities should be noted, too. Green’s good for a wise, calming word in a huddle or a reminder to feed Embiid when the opposition can't stop him. There’s no direct Green replacement.
“We’re resilient,” Embiid said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons. We’ve got a lot of guys that can play. But Danny’s a big part of what we’ve been doing all season, so I hope we get him back as soon as possible. But it’s the same mindset. We’ve got to keep it going. It starts defensively. And offensively, just moving the ball.”
Embiid had two alarming moments of his own Friday, though he emerged from both healthy enough to continue. He said he “rolled my ankle a little bit” in the third quarter and “landed on my back” in the fourth.
Of course, Embiid has been playing spectacular basketball on a small right lateral meniscus tear, averaging 35.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists this series.
He’s not someone the Sixers could afford to lose.
“I’m OK,” he said. “I’m standing up, I’m walking. I finished the game. I’m going to keep getting back up. I’m going to keep fighting. That’s been me since I started playing basketball, so I’m going to keep fighting. That’s been my motto. Whatever happens, get back up and keep it going.”