Why Joel Embiid’s Game 2 return could be good news for Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Bad news for Boston, right? Turns out it’s a bit more complicated.
Joel Embiid is expected to return for Game 2 on Wednesday after missing nearly two weeks due to a right knee sprain, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Embiid should provide a huge morale boost for the Sixers, who will be playing with house money at TD Garden after their Game 1 win.
And yet, there’s a silver lining here: The Celtics actually match up well against the superstar big man — especially in the postseason.
Philly is just 1-8 in nine playoff games against Boston with Embiid on the floor. If you’re looking for a more recent sample size, the Celtics went 3-1 against Embiid and the Sixers this season, their only loss coming in a game Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams didn’t play.
Embiid literally was just named the best player in the NBA. So, why does Boston play Philly better when he’s on the court? It helps to consider the Sixers’ team stats with and without Embiid during the 2022-23 regular season, which hints at a more up-tempo style of play without their 7-foot big man.
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It’s a smaller sample size, but the Sixers were better in several statistical categories without Embiid this season.
We’re wary of small sample sizes, but Philly does have a different identity without Embiid, utilizing smaller lineups that attempt more shots per game and play with more pace. Embiid’s absence also empowers his teammates to be more aggressive on offense, which is exactly what happened in Game 1: James Harden delivered a 45-point masterpiece, while Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and DeAnthony Melton combined for 61 points.
“You’ve got to cut off the water somewhere,” Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon lamented after Game 1. ” … If James Harden is going to have his 45, then that’ll be that. But the role guys can’t have really good games as well.”
With Embiid on the floor, however, the offense runs through him, and Philly’s pace slows. Boston has multiple capable defenders to throw at him — including “Embiid stopper” Al Horford and the sturdy Grant Williams — and if he’s not 100 percent on Wednesday, the C’s should heed Brogdon’s message and do their best to contain the Sixers’ role players, a strategy that helped them during the regular season.
On the other end, the key stat to note is steals: Philly averaged 1.1 fewer steals in games Embiid played this season, which is good news for a Celtics team that was plagued by 16 turnovers in Game 1. The C’s are 53-19 this season when they keep turnovers under 16 and will have a much better chance of winning Game 2 if they can improve their ball control.
Philly will be motivated to win for its MVP on Wednesday night, and he could put the team on his back to give the Sixers at 2-0 lead. But there’s evidence to suggest the Celtics might be glad to see him back on the court at TD Garden.
Source: Yahoo Sports