Sixers-Raptors analysis: Joel Embiid has to be better to give Philly a chance in NBA playoff series
Embiid’s health, which was questionable throughout the first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, was no longer in question ahead of Game 1. Instead, the big man’s conditioning will now be under a microscope.
TORONTO — The 76ers need a lot of things to go their way in order to have a chance against the Raptors. But maybe more than anything else, they need their biggest star and leading scorer, Joel Embiid, to play at his absolute best.
On Saturday night, in the Sixers’ 108-95 loss to the Raptors, he was not dominant, he was not quick, he was not himself. He finished the night with just 16 points in 29 minutes, 53 seconds, his lowest scoring output of the postseason.
“I’ve got to help him more,” coach Brett Brown said. “I think getting him into the post in different ways and bringing him out a little bit more than we did is something that I have to look at. But I give Toronto credit for their defensive effort tonight.”
Embiid’s health, which was questionable throughout the first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, was no longer in question ahead of Game 1. Instead, the big man’s conditioning will now be under a microscope.
Though Embiid was not as efficient or effective as the Sixers needed him to be, they may need him even more as the series goes on. The options behind Embiid will not work against the Raptors. Boban Marjanovic was completely ineffective, a minus-17 and with just two points in 10 minutes off the bench. Jonah Bolden remains streaky and raw against strong opponents.
The larger problem is that Embiid can play only so many minutes, so when he needs some time to rest, a team as talented as the Raptors is able to pounce quickly. The same can be said for most of the Sixers’ starters. Even with the heavy minutes they are already playing, Brown might be forced to play them even more in this series.
The Sixers, down by 19 with two minutes left in the third quarter, were able to cut the Raptors’ lead to just 11 by the end of the period with the starters on the floor. The Raptors quickly opened their lead back up in the fourth when Brown needed to get some rest for his stars.
As expected, the matchup against Marc Gasol, slowed Embiid significantly. Gasol has had success against Embiid in the past and it was no different in Game 1. Embiid went just 5-for-18 from the floor and took just six free throws, with Gasol and Serge Ibaka working on him through the night.
“You’ve got to give credit to Marc Gasol, he was the defensive player of the year for a reason,” Brown said. “I thought Serge came in and did a good job athletically, especially making it difficult for Joel.”
Embiid’s usual pump fakes and rip-throughs didn’t work against the Raptors. In order to put pressure on Toronto, Embiid won’t be able to rely on his usual tricks. It’s really going to come down to talent and willpower.
While the Nets were willing to live with what Embiid would do on the floor, trying instead to cut off other players, the Raptors are not working from the same place. Slowing Embiid is a huge part of their game plan.
“It’s extremely important because he can go do a lot of things and he can take over a game. He can go wild on you,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I thought the combination of Marc and Serge did a good job. He was taking some tougher shots, I thought we had him picking up the ball a little further away than maybe he wanted a few times, and then our team help was pretty good, too.”
Embiid was not the only reason the Sixers lost, but he is often the driving force behind the team’s playing with energy. When Embiid is playing with force and imposing his will, the rest of the team follows suit.
On Saturday, there wasn’t enough of that in his 29 minutes on the court. They are going to need him on the floor longer and for him to play like the player they know he can be.