Updated: 5:37 p.m.
Brett Brown said in May that he hopes to play Joel Embiid approximately 38 minutes per game in the playoffs, a figure he's since admitted is "probably ambitious" but nevertheless doubled down on.
The Sixers may have won if Embiid had hit that mark in their first seeding game Saturday night, based on how well he performed and how much the team struggled when he was off the floor. Embiid was plus-21 in 34 minutes and had 41 points and 21 rebounds in the Sixers' 127-121 loss to the Pacers. A 10-point lead when Embiid exited with 8:38 remaining in the game was a two-point deficit by the time he returned with 5:04 to go.
Al Horford had 10 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes and was a minus-26. In a departure from the norm, the Sixers managed to tread water in the time Embiid and Horford were together (plus-1 in nine minutes) thanks to a combination of fruitful Embiid bully ball and Horford converting a couple of open jumpers in the third quarter. They struggled, however, with Horford at center. Brown employed his original frontcourt this year for stints at the end of the first three quarters, but not at all in the fourth.
What factored into his decision-making? He explained Sunday that he still considers his usage of the Embiid-Horford pairing to be mostly driven by matchups. It seems he'll be more inclined to close games with Horford against larger teams that don't put as great a strain on the 34-year-old's perimeter defense. Not many teams have lumbering power forwards in the modern NBA, of course, but the Pacers were especially small and quick with All-Star Domantas Sabonis sidelined by plantar fasciitis.
I just go straight to, ‘Are we going to be able to chase?'" Brown said. "For instance, last night you're playing against a bunch of track stars. T.J. Warren at that point (of the fourth quarter) had 40 (points) or thereabouts, and it's, what are you going to do to chase those Holiday brothers and T.J. Warren? To give you a categoric, organic answer of ‘This is Joel and Al Horford's world,' I can't. … It's who we're playing, what is the situation?
"You did see a little bit of Ben (Simmons), Al and Joel, and we still gave Shake (Milton) the ball on not many but some possessions last night. Shake got in foul trouble and things started to happen a little bit differently than was planned. … You've gotta go with the situation and make a decision.
‘Lightning in a bottle'
Brown had a rather high appraisal of Alec Burks' work in his 12 minutes against Indiana. Burks did commit four of the Sixers' 21 turnovers, but he also provided nine points, three fewer than Milton, Josh Richardson, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle and Raul Neto combined.
"It's always a defensive thing," Brown said. "He came in, I thought he played, he looked cocky. He had the ball at times. We ran him as a two off screens. I thought he looked good. And then you get into, you've got to stop the Holiday brothers. T.J. Warren. … So Alec, I thought his defense was pretty good. He did have a few turnovers, like a lot of us had, just kind of careless passes to an elbow or trying to go behind-the-back pocket pass out of the pick-and-roll.
"I feel like Alec had a really good seven or eight days in camp. I thought last night he looked good, he scored, and it's always on my mind to try to continue to grow his role as it relates to lightning in a bottle, somebody that can come in and just get buckets quickly, especially as it relates to a playoff environment."
Teammates call Burks "Buckets," so this is clearly not a foreign role for him.
Of note in the ever-evolving competition for playoff minutes on the Sixers' bench: Glenn Robinson III participated in practice but is doubtful for Monday's game vs. the Spurs with the left hip pointer injury that sidelined him Saturday. Mike Scott will miss a second straight game with right knee soreness.
Pushing the message
Milton chose not to focus on basketball the day after a challenging night on the court.
He wanted to talk about racial injustice instead.
I came out here to just say that to anybody who is out here watching me, listening to me, keep fighting and keep putting the word out about what's going on," he said. "Don't let up. The iron right now is hot about what's going on in this country, the racial injustices that are happening, so keep fighting and keep putting that word out. I just want to say to Breonna Taylor's family that we are sorry that it has taken so long, and we know (Kentucky attorney general) Daniel Cameron has the power, so we need to keep pushing to keep making his seat hot, for him to make a decision.
"Also, I want to say rest in peace to Breonna Taylor, rest in peace to Ahmaud Arbery, rest in peace to Kalief Browder, as well. That's all I have to say.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot to death on Feb. 23 in Savannah, Georgia. Browder died by suicide at age 22 after spending three years at Rikers Island in New York for a case that never went to trial.
The Sixers protested Saturday by kneeling during the national anthem, and Milton said the team is working on further plans.
"… Hopefully, along with educating people and putting that message out there, we are going to give people tangible things that they can do for action to make change in the communities where they're at," he said.
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