Joel Embiid sounded like proud pop with a lot of wisdom.
Embiid was the last 76er to speak to the media after Tueday’s 118-102 Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The MVP runner-up’s 40-point, 13-rebound effort made him the fourth Sixer with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in a postseason game.
While asked about Shake Milton’s stellar play off the bench, Embiid spoke of loving and believing in his teammates. His goal is to win an NBA title, and Embiid knows he’s going to need them to do that.
“So I’m extremely happy for him,” Embiid said of Milton, who scored a much-needed 14 points. “But you know the series is only 1-1. There’s nothing to really be happy about. We just got to go over there and win both and take one [game] at the time.”
As Embiid mentioned, the series is tied heading into Friday’s 7:30 p.m. pivotal Game 3 in Atlanta. Game 4 of the best-of-seven series will be Monday night before the series comes back to Philadelphia for Game 5 on Wednesday.
Atlanta’s State Farm Arena is a tough place to play for visiting teams. The Hawks won 19 of their last 21 games there, including Games 3 and 4 of their five-game playoff series against the New York Knicks.
The Sixers know it’s a tough place to play. They’ve lost two straight and four of their last five games in the building.
The Hawks, however, will remain without former Friends’ Central standout De’Andre Hunter. The small forward will have surgery on Tuesday in Los Angeles to repair a small tear of the lateral meniscus in his right knee. He’s out for the rest of the playoffs.
On paper, Hunter’s absence will be a major blow for the Hawks. At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, has the size to guard Ben Simmons and/or Tobias Harris.
Don’t be surprised if one of the Hawks’ adjustments involves double-teaming Embiid, who scored 79 total points in the first two games. He has been able to score any way he wanted to. One has to assume they will try to double-team, rotate and try to get to the Sixers’ shooters.
It will also be interesting to see what happens if they continue to go to Hack-a-Ben.
With the Sixers up 114-97 in Game 2, Danilo Gallinari intentionally fouled Ben Simmons with 3 minutes, 19 seconds remaining. He missed both foul shots, and coach Doc Rivers subbed him out during a timeout nine seconds later.
Keeping him in the game would have enabled the Hawks to continue their Hack-a-Ben plan. That’s when you can intentionally foul and send any player on the floor to the foul line. In the final two minutes, you can only do that to the player with the ball.
Rivers reinserted Simmons, who’s shooting 25% on free throws, with 1:43 to play. That move was interesting, because Rivers kept Simmons in during a Hack-a-Ben situation in Game 4 of the opening-round series against the Washington Wizards.
One thing to pay attention to Friday will be the Sixers’ composure. How will they react if the Hawks have a strong start in front of their home crowd?
The Sixers will most likely have to double Trae Young and get the ball out if he has a hot start.
Embiid knows the Hawks are going to make adjustments. Plus, teams coming off a loss are usually the aggressor in a playoff series.
Perhaps that’s why Embiid knows there’s nothing to be happy about at this time.