No Embiid and abysmal shooting in Miami, but is a Sixers turnaround doable?


MIAMI — The Sixers’ first two games of their second-round playoff series produced zero wins and 14 made three-pointers on 64 attempts.

The Heat Wednesday night hit 14 threes on 29 attempts in a 119-103 Game 2 win at FTX Arena.

However you look at them, those numbers are a lot to overcome.

“I liked the shots tonight live,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “Holy goodness, we got some wide-open looks. Georges (Niang) had a bunch, Danny (Green) had a couple, even Tobias (Harris) had some. … I like that we’re getting them. We’ve got to just keep shooting them. I think we’ll make them. We’ve just got to tell our guys, ‘Keep throwing them up there.’”

Joel Embiid has been out since suffering a right orbital fracture and concussion last Thursday. His absence has impacted just about every aspect of the series’ strategy thus far, including Miami’s increased willingness to throw hard double teams at James Harden and the Sixers’ stretches of zone to work around the interior defensive drop-off.

After commenting Tuesday that Embiid was “feeling a lot better” but saying he didn’t want to “give false hope,” Rivers again had no firm timeline to offer on his MVP finalist’s potential return.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “Honestly, we talked yesterday, we talked today. … He looked good as far as talking, but he’s got so many steps to go through. I don’t think he’s cleared any of them right now, so we just have to wait and see.”

Tobias Harris summed things up in a similar way, calling it “kind of a ‘who knows’ situation.’”

He also added a touch of humor to postgame media sessions that were otherwise not extraordinarily cheerful.

“I’m for sure hopeful (he’ll be) back. I love Joel, but I’m not thinking about Joel every single moment of my life. I’m just being honest with you,” Harris said with a laugh. “But we’re all hopeful he comes back and can play, and we want him to be healthy because we know how good we are with him.”

Without Embiid, Rivers’ decisions inevitably tend to have higher odds of seeming dubious (and desperate). He inserted Furkan Korkmaz into his Game 2 rotation, removed Shake Milton, and took Paul Millsap out of the center mix.

Korkmaz posted eight points on 3-for-8 shooting (2 for 4 from three-point range) and six rebounds in his 18 minutes, but the Heat looked eager to attack him defensively.

“Against Miami, you need a guy that can move without the ball, a guy that can catch and shoot, and a guy that can put the ball on the floor,” Rivers said. “I thought he did that. He missed a layup; that’s a great drive by Furk, he just missed it. … I liked the lift that he gave us.”

The idea of missed open jumpers eventually being bound to fall isn’t exactly an incredible bright spot. And the concept of Embiid returning and everything falling into place for the Sixers isn’t a sure thing either. He’d be playing through multiple significant injuries, among them a torn ligament in his right thumb.

A legitimate, uncontroversial positive is Tyrese Maxey. He’s not a mistake-heavy player, but the 21-year-old has time and time again pinpointed how he can improve and enacted the necessary changes rapidly. He noted Wednesday he was “settling way too much” in the series opener. That certainly wasn’t the case in Game 2; Maxey scored 34 points on 11-for-19 shooting and took 11 free throws, the most of his professional career.

After Miami scored 21 second-chance points off its eight offensive rebounds, the 6-foot-2 guard mentioned several times that he needs to contribute to the defensive rebounding effort.

“Just keep fighting, keep getting over screens,” Maxey said. “They do a lot of different split actions with Bam (Adebayo) at the top, Bam in the post. We’ve got to be able to get over our screens and keep fighting, keep coming.

“Honestly, I’m going to keep going back to defensive rebounding — because our defense isn’t terrible in the half court. But once they miss, we have to get the ball. We have to rebound the ball, myself included. Being a small guard, I’ve got to go in there and help our bigs out as much as possible. We’ve got to gang rebound, especially when we don’t have Joel on the floor or DeAndre (Jordan) on the floor. Our biggest guy on the floor is probably Paul Reed or Tobias at 6-8 or 6-9, so everybody has to rebound.”

For the Sixers to beat good teams in the playoffs without Embiid, plenty of factors need to go right. It’s valid to find faults in Rivers’ handling of his bench, Harden’s lack of second-half production (eight points on 2-for-9 shooting, six assists over Games 1 and 2), and the Sixers’ defensive miscues on Tyler Herro.

But when Embiid isn’t there and the team shoots 21.9 percent from three-point range, everything else appears far less consequential.

Without offering any Embiid-related “ifs,” Harden said the Sixers will hold serve in Philadelphia.

“ … For the most part, we’re still a confident group,” the 10-time All-Star said. “We’ll go home and do what we’re supposed to do. In the playoffs, the series doesn’t start until the road team wins. We didn’t get one of the first two, but go home, take care of business, and we’ll be back here for Game 5.”

Contact Us