Before the series began, and even after the Game 2 loss, I’ve been hearing stuff like, “Even without Embiid, the Sixers are a more talented team than Miami.”
That may be the case, but it doesn’t mean they’ll win the series without him. In fact, the Sixers don’t stand a chance at winning this series unless Joel Embiid returns by Game 3 or 4.
When the pace slows, and ball movement and spacing get “gucked” up, this is where Embiid can get you a quality shot.
The Heat were successful in slowing down the pace of this game and that allowed them to get aggressive and physical defensively. While that lead to a lot of fouls, it was successful in stifling the Sixers ball movement and spacing for a large part of the game—resulting in one ugly half court possession after another. This is where the offense could use Embiid the most. When all else fails: get the ball to your superstar and let him go to work.
As of now, the team currently uses JJ Redick and, recently, Marco Belinelli in those ‘end-of-clock’ situations, and those have typically resulted in prayers from three or deep-two. Embiid on the block or elbow-extended is a far more appealing option.
As the series progresses I don’t expect it to get any easier for the Sixers to create quality offense without Joel. Until he’s able to return we can fully expect more stretches of ineptitude like we witnessed in the second quarter.
He provides rim protection—obviously—but also better perimeter defense
While the Sixers didn’t roll out the red carpet, they weren’t exactly stellar in defending the rim and paint in general. I won’t spend long on this because it’s pretty straightforward, but without the 7-footer all players have to do is break down the first line of defense and there’s not much keeping them from the rim. That’s what we saw in Game 2.
Amir Johnson and Ersan Illyasova are physical, but aren’t true centers. On top of that, Embiid is a much better perimeter defender than either of those two—enabling them to switch on matchups that would otherwise force them into a rotation where the Heat (and any NBA team) will make you pay.
Beyond that, Embiid’s presence allows every other defender to be more aggressive in their individual matchups because they know Joel has their back if they get beat. Forget the boost he can provide on offense, his impact on defense alone will be enough to cruise through the rest of this series without a problem.
On the road for Games 3 & 4, the Sixers problems will be amplified
At home, Miami is 26-15
On the road, the Sixers are 22-19
If Miami’s defense was as cagey as it was on the road in Game 2, I’m afraid to see how aggressive it will be in Miami on Thursday and Sunday. Like most teams, the Heat are tougher at home, and are likely to get the benefit of the doubt on foul calls that they didn’t get in the second half last night.
This goes hand in hand with I said earlier, but I don’t expect offense to come easier as the series progresses and it’s certainly not going to get any easier playing in South Beach.
By winning Game 2 on the road, Miami stole home court advantage; which means the Sixers will need go on the road and pick up a win in what promises to be a tough environment. I may be a prisoner of the moment, but a Sixer team without Embiid won’t win Games 3, 4, or 6 on the road.
It’s pretty simple, the Sixers haven’t won a single road game against a playoff team without Embiid all season. Actually, even with Embiid in the lineup the team has only won 4 road games against playoff teams, and none of them are inspiring. Let me break those down for you:
Don’t bet on a road win as long as Embiid is sidelined.
The Sixers need him to take the load off of Ben Simmons
Watching Game 2 I though Ben Simmons seemed exhausted and even overwhelmed at times. If you go back and watch the minutes leading up to the easy layup he missed at the end of the first half, it can pretty easily be attributed to mental/physical exhaustion.
No doubt, Ben Simmons is a superstar. But he’s not ready to carry a team through the playoffs by himself. Not only does Ben need Embiid to take away the offensive and defensive workload that he’s had to take on, but he needs Embiid to reassume the leadership workload that will, sooner or later, take a toll on him as it would any 21-year old.
Ben Simmons (and JJ Redick to a lesser degree) have done an exceptional job stepping up both on and off the court in the absence of Embiid. Based off the way both players were suffocated last night—and the clear mental frustration that they both displayed—I’m not sure how much longer the team can survive without their superstar.
The Heat likely can’t go small as often with Olynyk at the 5-spot.
This reason is far less significant than the previous four but it still bares mentioning. Kelly Olynyk has been the best big man for Miami and is the only option Spoelstra can throw at the Sixers to create any sort of mismatch. He’s a lot quicker laterally than either Amir Johnson or Ersan Illyasova and has a reliable three-point shot in his arsenal. In other words: he stretches our bigs out to the perimeter (where they struggle) while being able to defend well in space.
The Heat’ best lineups have all been with Olynyk at the 5 and with Embiid back in the fold this problem is completely eliminated. In fact, the Heat are more than likely put in a position where Embiid’s size forces Olynyk to the bench in favor of Whiteside—who’s presence undoubtedly limits Miami’s spacing.
Outside of Dwayne Wade’s flashback effort (that was to be expected), Olynyk has been the story of the series for Miami, and Embiid can erase that entirely.