The 76ers had one glaring advantage over the Boston Celtics heading into their first-round playoff series, and in the first quarter of Monday’s 109-101 loss, they clearly took advantage of it.
Joel Embiid, who gives the Sixers a huge edge over most teams, should be even more dominant against the undersized Celtics. And in the first quarter, he was having it his own way, both near and away from the basket. He was 5-for-5 shooting with a 9-foot driving hook, a cutting dunk, a 15-foot jumper, another shot by the basket, and a step-back, 25-foot three that was taken because the shot clock was running down.
He finished with 11 first-quarter points.
The natural inclination would have been to keep feeding the hot hand, but in the second period, while playing nine minutes, Embiid took just two shots. He missed a 26-footer and a 13-footer.
It’s understandable that teams double-team Embiid, and when he puts the ball on the floor, master pickpockets such as Marcus Smart try to deflect the ball or steal it. That said, two shots in 9 minutes?
Embiid had only eight shots in the second half. And that was with 6-foot-8 Daniel Theis playing most of the minutes against the 7-foot Embiid. Enes Kanter, who will never be known as a defensive force, and inexperienced Robert Williams also took turns guarding him.
The Sixers had seven turnovers in the first quarter, compared to one for Boston, yet they led the Celtics, 26-25, and it was mainly because of Embiid’s dominance.
So, what happened?
“I guess, especially with the way I started out in the first quarter, I need to be more assertive and demand the ball,” Embiid said in the postgame Zoom interview. “Just be aggressive.”
The bottom line is that he shouldn’t need to demand the ball. The Sixers should be giving it to him, and while it’s impossible to get it to Embiid down in the post on every play , he has to get more chances in a series in which fellow All-Star Ben Simmons is out with a knee surgery. .
It clearly seemed as though the Sixers went away from that strategy, and it cost them.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said he didn’t agree with that theory.
“I think part of our turnovers came from getting stood up in trying to post, and part of our turnovers came when we did post,” Brown said. “And part of our turnovers came when we weren’t crisp passing out of the post.”
It’s true that Embiid had three of his five turnovers in that first quarter, but that shouldn’t be a reason to stop trying to get him the ball near the basket, where he has the best chance to score.
“This is a double-edged sword that you have to figure out what line you want to walk,” Brown said.
They should walk the line that gives them the best chance to score, and that is Embiid near the basket. In the first quarter, he was getting position at will.
“I think there’s no doubt we want to get Jo the ball in different floor sports,” Brown said. “It doesn’t always have to be bully ball at the nail, where it is just a fist fight and everything gets stuck in mud.” .
When asked the biggest challenge the Sixers posed, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, who scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, talked about dealing with their physicality.
“I think they just coming out being aggressive, playing strong,” Brown said. “You know Embiid down there is a lot.”
He sure is, but the Sixers didn’t make it a priority to stick with the successful first-quarter formula. Even in the fourth, with the game on the line, he took just five shots, and two of them were consecutive misses on follows.