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Sports Opinion: Sixers need Joel Embiid to dominate to have a chance to beat Celtics

17:08  18 august  2020
17:08  18 august  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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Joel Embiid carries his heaviest responsibility in these playoffs.

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With no Ben Simmons (out recovering from last week's knee surgery), the Philadelphia 76ers' success in their first-round series against the Boston Celtics depends on Embiid’s production, and he knows that.

Enes Kanter, Joel Embiid on a court: Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 26 points and 16 rebounds but also had five turnovers. © Ashley Landis, Pool photo via USA TODAY Sports Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 26 points and 16 rebounds but also had five turnovers.

Embiid, 26, needs to be at his best for the Sixers to win this series, and while he was good in Game 1 against Boston, he was not dominant in the Celtics’ 109-101 victory.

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The stat line looked good: 26 points, 16 rebounds, two steals, but he also had five turnovers and just 15 of his points came after the first quarter.

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"With the way I started the first quarter, I need to be more assertive," Embiid said, suggesting he needs more touches, especially down the stretch.

If he wants to prove that a mostly traditional big man can still control a perimeter-oriented game, Embiid needs to dominate.

"I've got to do more," Embiid said. "I’ve got one job to do — carry us."

All is not lost after one game. The Sixers trailed 103-100 with 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter. They weren’t blown out and proved they can play with the Celtics.

Before the series began, Sixers coach Brett Brown raved about Embiid’s mentality. When engaged, Embiid, an imposing physical presence with skill at 7-feet and 280 pounds, can influence a game with his rim protection defensively and force in the paint offensively.

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"That mindset, when you combine that was his gifts he’s a unique player," Brown said during an in-game interview with ESPN.

Embiid can be a problem, and the Celtics are committed to making sure he doesn't dominate, defending him with multiple players.

"We want to get Joel the ball in different floor spots," Brown said. "It doesn’t always have to be bully-ball at the nail (middle of the foul line) where it’s just a fistfight and everything gets stuck in mud. It can be at the nail. It can be pick-and-roll. ... There’s overplaying, the volume of just smash-mouth bully-ball in the post. To do it all the time comes with some level of punishment if you’re not careful. I look forward to going back and seeing our post passing, our passing out of the post, and I think we can improve a lot in that area."

Now, not everything is on Embiid’s plate. He can’t score every point and defend all five opponents on the court. He can’t do it alone in a team game — and we can make points about the level talent around him — and the Sixers’ defense, especially their perimeter players, must find a way to limit Boston’s tremendous and versatile guards and wings.

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The Sixers were sloppy with 11 turnovers in the first 18 minutes, and the Celtics scored 21 points off Philadelphia turnovers. Boston also had 16 second-chance points from offensive rebounds.

"You can’t minimize the fact that losing stinks, but I feel like there are answers to the questions of why," Brown said.

Depth may also end up being a major problem for the Sixers. Brown played nine players, but just seven received a majority of the playing time.

Add up all those factors, and perhaps it’s too much to ask for Philadelphia to beat Boston in a best-of-7 with Jayson Tatum (32 points), Jaylen Brown (29 points) and Kemba Walker (19 points) too much to contain.

But if the Sixers are going to do it, Embiid is the reason why.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Sixers need Joel Embiid to dominate to have a chance to beat Celtics

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