Joel Embiid beasted in the paint.
Then, he floated near the perimeter.
Then, he sat sullenly on the bench.
The 76ers feel like they’re slowly unraveling, a 128-101 loss to the Celtics in Game 2 Wednesday the latest thread to come undone. Boston leads the first-round series 2-0 and can push Philadelphia closer to the brink in Game 3 Friday.
Teams that fell behind 2-0 in a best-of-seven series by dropping Game 2 by 25+ have come back to win the series only once in 17 tries (Cavaliers against Warriors in 2016 NBA Finals). The 76ers don’t look ready to mount an exceptional comeback. They won’t even get a boost by returning home, as the entire postseason is being played in a bubble.
Embiid (34 points, 10 rebounds and three assists) was truly excellent for a while. But his effort waned.
Maybe he was fatigued. Maybe he was demoralized by teammates who couldn’t reliably deliver him the ball inside. Maybe both.
Philadelphia really missed Ben Simmons, who underwent surgery before the playoffs.
Boston still has the star power to separate itself.
Jayson Tatum (33 points on 8-of-12 3-point shooting) continued to sizzle. Kemba Walker (22 points) nailed simple mid-range jumpers against drop pick-and-roll coverage. Jaylen Brown (20 points) found creases, including for an electric 180 fastbreak dunk:
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) August 20, 2020
The Celtics got out in transition. They hit the glass for second-chance points. They swung the ball around.
Boston had so many ways of producing offense.
Philadelphia… had Embiid.
And not nearly enough else.
Philadelphia’s big summer signings – Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million) and Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) – were both ineffective. Harris shot just 4-for-15. Coming off the bench for Matisse Thybulle in an adjustment from Game 1, Horford scored just four points.
Josh Richardson scored 18 points on 12 shots, and Shake Milton added 14 points on eight shots. But that starting backcourt is woefully short on playmaking.
Though Simmons would help tremendously as a passer and defender, the big worry in Philadelphia: This postseason showing exposes more than a single lost year.
Harris’ and Horford’s contracts look inhibitive. Simmons’ nonexistent outside shooting creates other complications. Brett Brown might not last to whatever comes next.
Maybe this is just an overreaction to a pair of games by a team missing a star in Simmons. But losing like this, regardless of context, tends to exacerbate problems.
Recently, the 76ers and Celtics appeared to be the budding powers in the Eastern Conference. Boston has lived up to its end of the bargain. Philadelphia needs something – maybe different players, maybe different coaching, maybe just different injury luck, but something – to keep up.