The Philadelphia 76ers were dealt a brutal blow when Joel Embiid suffered a broken face late in the Sixers’ Game 6 victory over the Toronto Raptors. The injury kept him out of Game 1 against the Miami Heat in the second round and will keep him sidelined for at least another game and perhaps longer.
Unsurprisingly, Philly didn’t have much of a chance in Monday’s Game 1 in South Beach. The Sixers did well to be leading at halftime after going down 14 points early, but the second half was a bloodbath as the Heat tightened things up and ran away with a 106-92 victory.
Philly is in a tough spot without Embiid, but there are two major things that must change in order to give them a better chance moving forward.
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Sixers changes needed vs. Heat
1. James Harden must be more aggressive as a scorer
Daryl Morey and the Sixers held out on the Ben Simmons trade for so long because they badly wanted to get Harden or a player of his caliber in the deal, even despite some of Harden’s struggles earlier this season with the Brooklyn Nets as he dealt with hamstring issues. The hope was that the move to Philly would rejuvenate the 32-year-old and bring out the dominant scorer in him again.
Unfortunately, while Harden is still a good player who can control a game with his playmaking, that scoring rejuvenation simply hasn’t happened. In the regular season, he averaged 21.0 points while barely cracking 40% shooting overall and hitting 32.6% of his 3-pointers after the trade to Philly. He took just 13.6 shots per game and continued to lack that scoring explosiveness he became known for in Houston.
With Embiid out to start this series, it seemed like a perfect time for Harden to try to establish that scoring prowess. Instead, he had just 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting and 2-of-7 from 3-point range. He’s under 19 points per game so far in these playoffs:
James Harden isn’t shooting nearly as much as Doc told him to in March. He attempted 13 shots tonight with Joel Embiid sidelined.
He hasn’t had 20+ FGA since he got to Philly
His 18.6 PPG this postseason is his lowest since 2011-12
And.. 76ers now 6-9 without Embiid this year
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) May 3, 2022
As is often the case, some credit must go to Miami’s defense. We saw what they just did to a young star in Trae Young in the first round, and they were all over Harden in Game 1. Check out this data from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne:
According to ESPN Stats & Information data, 12 of Harden’s 13 field goal attempts were contested. He also was double-teamed nine times.
The average closest defender on Harden’s shot attempts was 3.7 feet away, according to Second Spectrum; it was the third-smallest amount of separation in a game for Harden this season and the smallest amount in a playoff game for Harden in two years.
Even so, Harden needs to at least try to show a bit more aggression when looking for his scoring with Embiid out. The Sixers managed just 92 points in Game 1, which won’t cut it.
2. End the DeAndre Jordan experiment
This was a major point of contention in Doc Rivers’ postgame press conference. Despite Jordan’s total ineffectiveness (-22 in 17 minutes) as the starter in place of Embiid, Rivers defiantly stated he’s going to keep starting him and even claimed his players are supportive of this decision and want it to stay this way.
Never mind that Jordan hasn’t been an effective option for years and continues to bounce around contenders who ultimately wind up benching him. He lost minutes with the Brooklyn Nets last season. He was terrible with the Los Angeles Lakers this season and got cut despite the need for a big man with Anthony Davis’ injuries. It was strange that Morey decided to pick up Jordan to begin with given his struggles, but the assumption is it was a favor to Rivers based on their prior partnership with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The problem is Jordan just can’t move much anymore. He’s still a big body who can grab some rebounds and throw down the occasional alley-oop, but he offers nothing else and gets targeted on the defensive end. Bam Adebayo had an absolute field day against him. The numbers were ghastly in Game 1:
The Heat scored 50 points in DeAndre Jordan's 17 minutes and 56 points during the 31 minutes he sat.
His lack of dynamism on both ends considerably hamstrings the Sixers during his stints.
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) May 3, 2022
With DeAndre Jordan on the floor tonight, the Sixers were outscored by 71.5 points per 100 possessions.
Scored 29 points on 33 offensive possessions (0.88 per).
Allowed 51 points on 32 possessions (1.59 per).https://t.co/cVvDpfyNat
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 3, 2022
The Sixers had an 18.2 OReb% with DeAndre Jordan on the floor tonight. They had a 27.8 OReb% with him off the floor.
The Heat had a 61.4 eFG% with him on the floor and a 40.4 eFG% with him off the floor.
— Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) May 3, 2022
This is all terrible and was predictable. The Sixers went in an immediate hole in this game in large part because of Jordan’s ineffectiveness, but Rivers seems intent on being stubborn while also claiming his other players want this. Something doesn’t add up here.
It’s true that the other options aren’t great. Paul Reed brings chaotic energy to the court but is prone to foul trouble. Paul Millsap is looking just as washed as Jordan and is undersized. Charles Bassey has little experience. Rivers did have some success going small with Georges Niang at center, even despite Niang’s shooting woes (he was a +6 despite shooting 0-of-7), and that’s an option that could be explored more.
When it comes down to it, Jordan hasn’t been good in years and has been bad in Philly. There’s plenty of evidence to support him not playing. But with Embiid out, the situation gets trickier, and Rivers is going to go with familiarity for now, hoping that the results will somehow change. If he’s going to keep doing this, he must have the quickest of triggers to end it if it continues to go south.