Philadelphia 76ers star center Joel Embiid is set to return to lineup for Wednesday’s Game 2 of the second-round series against the Boston Celtics barring a setback to his injured right knee, according to reports. league sources. Athleticism. Here’s what you need to know:
- Embiid, who was announced as the league’s MVP last night, turned to his teammates during a quick 76ers celebration and said, “I’m back,” league sources said. Athleticism.
- Embiid originally suffered what the team called a sprained right knee on April 20 in Game 3 of the 76ers’ first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. He missed the 76ers’ last two playoff games — Game 4 against Brooklyn in the first round and Game 1 against Boston on Monday — due to the injury.
- Embiid was initially listed as doubtful to return in Game 2, with league sources saying Athleticism that the injury was considered more serious than a grade 1 LCL sprain.
Embiid’s durability has long been a concern. The Sixers star missed the first two NBA seasons due to complications from a broken navicular bone in his right foot and has missed an average of 23 games in the seven seasons since. He also missed at least one playoff game in five of his six playoff appearances, although his absence in the first two games of last season’s second-round series against the Miami Heat was due to a concussion and to a right orbital fracture.
The 76ers lead the series against the Celtics 1-0 after winning Game 1 on the road on Monday. Embiid’s star running mate James Harden led the way with 45 points, including a 3-point go-ahead over Al Horford.
Can the Sixers take full control of this series now?
After stealing home-court advantage in Game 1, the Sixers are playing with some home cash tonight in Boston. With a win, they take full control of the series. But even if they lose, they will return to a noisy environment in Philadelphia. It remains to be seen what Embiid will look like when he returns, but if he’s close to normal, the Sixers now have a much better chance of winning another game in Boston. — Rich Hofmann
What Sixers fans should watch with Embiid
I will have my eyes on two things. The first is the way he moves because Boston has the personnel to play a five-out offense and get him to cover a lot of ground on the defensive end. Embiid should solve some of the Sixers’ defensive problems – it was a lay-up line for Boston at the start of Game 1 as they shot more than 70% from the field in the first half – but Horford and the Celtics have usually countered Embiid’s rim protection with turning.
The second thing is how much Embiid plays; it’s been almost two weeks since his last game. Backup center Paul Reed is normally called up to play 10 minutes a game with healthy Embiid, but could that number be closer to 20 on Tuesday? Embiid could take a few games to regain his conditioning even under the best of circumstances, while Reed performed well under pressure.
The Celtics’ Game 1 loss looms now
Once upon a time, the Celtics were able to limit Embiid as well as any team. It hasn’t been for a while. He averaged 36.8 points per game against Boston this season with an incredible 52 points (on 20 of 25 shooting) late in the campaign. Will he be able to reach this level coming back from a knee injury? How effective will it be?
Even when Embiid is healthy, the Celtics challenge him on the defensive side of the field with Horford’s ability to space the floor. If Embiid struggles to get closer to the perimeter, Boston could potentially take advantage. But he’s the MVP. He will put a lot of pressure on their defense, which hasn’t disturbed opponents enough in the last five games. His comeback early in the series is a huge reason the Celtics might regret not handling Game 1 when he was still sidelined by the knee. — Jay King
How is Boston’s strategy changing now?
The 76ers’ game plan without Embiid worked as well as they could have hoped for in Game 1, so how do things change with his return? Boston’s offense was looking to get as deep into the paint as possible against Reed and PJ Tucker in Game 1. The Celtics were using all sorts of back cuts while pushing the transition to expose Philly’s backline. They can’t sneak past the defense when Embiid is there, assuming he can move.
Embiid is going to give them space to stop and shoot, so Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will have to lock their shot in a way they haven’t been able to do consistently this season. They need to force Embiid out of the paint and move him sideways. This is the biggest weakness for someone with a sprained knee. The more Boston can get him out of his comfort zone on defense, the more likely they are to limit him when he has the ball. — Jared Weiss
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