Joel Embiid and its MVP Journey: Will the Sixers Rally Around Their Star Player?

Joel Embiid and its MVP Journey: Will the Sixers Rally Around Their Star Player?

The Boston Celtics are 3-0 in the Eastern Conference playoffs, thanks to an outstanding James Harden playoff effort. Two games after snatching 45 points in Game 1, the one-time MVP couldn’t even last half in his hometown before the City of Brotherly Love booed him.

Meanwhile, Sixers star Joel Embiid has recovered from an injured right knee, won the NBA’s regular season MVP, and played his way closer to dominating form, only to be abandoned by his teammates.

Joel Embiid had 30 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 3 assist in Friday’s 114-102 loss, but the most concerning statistic is the 39 minutes he played on his still-recovering ligament, which included the entire 3rd quarter and the home stretch of a game that Boston’s Jayson Tatum put away with two minutes remaining.

The Celtics are up 2-1 in the series. Joel Embiid has until Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET to recuperate for Game 4.

Sixers’ Supporting Cast Falls Short Again in Game 3, Raising Concerns

Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris shot a combined 10-for-36 (27.2%) from the field and did not help their team defensively in Friday’s defeat. Tatum burned Harris for 7 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, extending Boston’s lead to double digits by taking advantage of three consecutive isolation possessions. After Marcus Smart’s 3-pointer put the Celtics up 38-36 with 8:34 left in the second quarter, they never looked back.

This comes after Philly’s second-, third-, and fourth-best players combined to shoot only 15-of-40 (37.5%) in the rout they suffered in Game 2 on Wednesday. From halftime to the last buzzer, the Sixers trailed. They’ve only had the lead for a total of four minutes throughout the previous two games combined, and only 15 minutes total out of a possible 144. This is an issue that requires fixing.

“Players have to show up,” Embiid added. I have to be there. There is a clear division of labor. They have to carry out their duties. You’re free to make whatever alterations you like, but if our guys still don’t show up, perform their jobs, and score, we’ll take the blame. What I need to do is improve. Each of us must improve. Simply put, we haven’t been up to par.

Celtics’ Defensive Dominance Stifles Embiid and Harden, Putting Sixers in Peril

To double Embiid on every touch, the Celtics have no problem helping off P.J. Tucker, Jalen McDaniels, or any of the other five guys in Philadelphia’s top lineups save De’Anthony Melton. Grant Williams relentlessly pursued the NBA Finals MVP to the point of injury while Al Horford was not Boston’s primary defender. All of Embiid’s touches inside the paint are disrupted by Robert Williams III’s presence off the dribble, and the Celtics’ assortment of guard and wing defenders swipe at his every dribble in the high post. After eliminating a healthy Embiid in little more than five playoff games in their two previous encounters, Boston would be hell to pay for if they met again.

Since taking over the defensive assignment in Game 2, Jaylen Brown has physically dominated Harden, to the point that Harden sat out many Friday scoring possibilities. The audience began booing his indecisiveness beginning in the second quarter as his uneasiness became increasingly obvious. Harden is having trouble getting to the basket again after returning from an Achilles injury at the end of March, as evidenced by his 3-for-15 shooting performance from inside the arc over the past two games and his 9-for-34 showing from 2-point range in a first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets.

Jaylen Brown’s Confidence Soars as Celtics Clamp Down on Sixers’ Threat

Brown, who scored 23 points himself, reflected on the Sixers’ potential threat: “We know how dominant Embiid can be,” he said, “and we know, if those other guys get going, how deadly the Sixers can be.” We’ve won the previous two games because of the energy and pressure we’ve brought to the table. Tonight they scored 102 points, and if we can limit their scoring to that range, they’ll have a hard time beating us.

Unless Harden does a complete U-turn and Embiid’s supporting cast figures out how to beat Boston’s defense, this series is all but gone now that it’s been three games since Harden scored 45 points on nine days’ rest in Game 1. Harden has seemed like he has other plans for next week whenever he hasn’t been performing on his own in this series.

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