The 76ers had one final dress rehearsal, against the Houston Rockets, a 134-96 win, before beginning the playoffs Monday against the Boston Celtics.
With the exception of injured Russell Westbrook, both teams had their regulars in the starting lineup, looking to fine-tune for the postseason. Here are a few observations:
Embiid’s progress: For the Sixers, the most important thing to take out of this game was how Joel Embiid fared. Embiid missed Tuesday’s game against Phoenix with a twisted left ankle. He returned Wednesday against Toronto, but played only 13 minutes, 35 seconds.
So the key was how was Embiid moving, and if was he bothered at all after being hit hard in the right hand last game (X-rays were negative)?
On a few occasions against the Rockets, he was seen grabbing his hand, so that will be another thing to look for during the playoffs.
Embiid still looks like he can improve his conditioning.
Boston might be undersized at center, but nobody compares to Houston for a small-ball lineup. The Rockets began by having 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker on Embiid. Often, Houston would have a weakside defender behind Embiid if he was ready to post-up.
One thing that Embiid failed to do on several occasions was post up closer to the basket. By doing it further from the basket, he plays into the defense’s hands.
Late in the second quarter, Embiid made a deep post-up and the Rockets’ Jeff Green had no chance of stopping him. When Embiid posts up closer to the basket, he is unstoppable.
Embiid got his time in (23 minutes), and this had to be considered a solid tuneup for the Celtics.
Better judgment: In the third quarter, Embiid missed a shot with James Harden on him. Harden got the rebound and Embiid, likely thinking he was fouled, then purposely bumped into Harden to pick up his fifth foul. Harden threw the ball at Embiid and drew a technical. While Harden shouldn’t have thrown the ball, Embiid has to watch those unnecessary fouls.
Harden’s creativity: Harden doesn’t have blazing speed, but he plays at a pace where he is always in control. One of Harden’s specialties is creating room for himself to take three-pointers. Few are better at the step-back three, as Josh Richardson found out on this play.
At least it was good practice for Richardson as he gets ready to defend the Celtics’ Kemba Walker.
Thybullle on D: In the second quarter, rookie Matisse Thybulle guarded Harden when he returned to the game. The first time, Harden blew by Thybulle, and the Sixers rookie used his 7-foot wingspan to hit the ball away, causing a turnover. Players have to know by now that Thybulle swats at the ball after getting beaten off the dribble, but he keeps being successful.
Thybulle doesn’t just make plays on the player he is defending. He drew a charge against Tucker, while making a defensive switch. Later in the second quarter, he left his man and blocked a three-point attempt by Tucker in the corner, coming out of nowhere to make the block. See below:
Thybulle should have a key defensive role against Boston.
Pass of the game: Harden can do more than score. Watch this assist, a between-the-legs pass to Jeff Green, who finishes emphatically.
Korkmaz confident: After a rough first seeding game, when he shot 0-for-4 from three-point range in a 127-121 loss to Indiana, Furkan Korkmaz has been confident and successful taking the three. As stated previously, Korkmaz’s playing time will be dependent on his ability to make shots.