Sixers' lack of ‘desperation,’ spacing issues lead to 34-point Game 2 loss to Celtics

Lack of ‘desperation,’ spacing issues lead to 34-point loss with Embiid back originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

What went wrong for the Sixers on Wednesday night in Boston?

Just about everything besides Joel Embiid getting through Game 2.

The MVP came back from a right knee sprain and was tremendous at times defensively in the opening 18 minutes, blocking five shots during that span. In terms of the game’s result, it didn’t matter very much, though.

The Sixers started 1 for 13 from three-point range, got blitzed by Boston in a dismal third quarter, and ultimately lost Game 2 of their second-round playoff series to the Celtics by 34 points. Embiid didn’t play any of the fourth quarter because the game was noncompetitive by that stage.

“I just thought tonight, obviously, they made a lot of shots — 14 more threes than us,” Embiid said. “They beat us to every loose ball and they played with more desperation than us. We didn’t execute what we wanted to and we’ve got to be better.

“We knew they were going to try to respond after us winning that first game and we just weren’t ready enough, but we’ll fix it.”

Through their three quarters on the court, Embiid and James Harden combined to attempt 18 free throws. The other members of the Sixers' rotation took zero.

Harden had two three-pointers spin around the rim and out. He didn’t think anything on the Celtics’ end was the main reason he followed up a fantastic, 45-point Game 1 with a 2-for-14 night from the floor.

“No. Our spacing wasn’t right,” Harden said. “And this is a make-or-miss league. We didn’t really start making shots until that third quarter, and then they went on a big run. For us, we’ve just got to do a better job of knowing where we are on the floor and just allowing each other to have space and to generate shots — easier shots.”

Harden and the Sixers have frequently pointed to spacing as a primary issue this season on substandard offensive evenings. Boston’s increased ball pressure, reintegrating a massive piece of the offense in Embiid, and much less possession-saving shotmaking all contributed to that problem being more prominent than in Game 1.

It also didn’t help that the Sixers forced just five turnovers over the game’s first 47 minutes.

“I think that’s for the whole group to figure out. Spacing and creating driving lanes, that’s the biggest thing for us,” Tobias Harris said. “We can figure out different ways to gain more spacing. I think obviously, that starts with getting stops and getting out and running … allowing us to push the pace out there.

“And outside of that, just getting that ball hopping around and moving. … So it’s a full effort on the spacing front, but we do have to be able to figure out who has the ball, who has the mismatch, and how that person can get downhill and create plays for other guys.”

Moving forward, any sort of loss will likely hurt a bit more for the Sixers given their star center is yet again playing through postseason injury.

Embiid, who said postgame that he felt “pretty good” physically, was asked why he returned for Game 2.

“What I have is supposed to be out four to six weeks or something like that,” he said. “So I’m not going to be 100 percent for that whole time; I’m not going be fully healed for that whole time. I felt pretty good to play and I feel like I can help the team defensively and offensively. Obviously, offensively, I wasn’t as aggressive. I was just trying to let the game come to me. And then defensively, just protecting the rim, and I think I did a fine job when it comes to that.

“So I just felt like being up 1-0 and having a chance to go up 2-0 against this type of team, I knew they were going to come at us. I expected it, but you never know. Anything can happen, so I just felt like it probably would have been the same result as far as how I’m feeling if I would’ve come back in Game 3. Probably rusty and not myself, but I feel like, just get this out of the way.

“Disappointed by the loss, but that’s a step towards getting back to myself and obviously, I’ve got a lot of work to do. And that starts tonight and tomorrow to make sure I’m ready for Friday.”

What exactly are those next steps for Embiid ahead of Game 3 at Wells Fargo Center?

“Obviously, one of the biggest things about it is mobility and swelling,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. Just got to cross your fingers and hope that it doesn’t (swell), and treatment around the clock to make sure you’re as good as possible.

“I think I should be fine. I play through a lot. Last year, broken face, fingers — played through it all, even with the concern that I could lose my vision if I got hit. So I’m going to keep playing through anything. We’ve got a big chance, so got to take advantage of it and make sure we’re all ready for Game 3.”