The Philadelphia 76ers haven’t celebrated a championship since 1983.
This season looked to be their best chance at a parade since 2001 when they lost in five games in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.
When Most Valuable Player finalist Joel Embiid suffered a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in Game 4 of the first round against the Washington Wizards, the Sixers’ championship aspirations were damaged.
The top-seeded Sixers dispatched the Wizards in five games and will now open the Eastern Conference semifinals at home Sunday afternoon against the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
Embiid’s playing status is very much in doubt.
“I can’t give you a timeline,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said.
Embiid missed 21 of 72 regular season games and the Sixers were 10-11 without him. They won Game 5 against the Wizards without Embiid.
But this is the playoffs. Winning games will be much more difficult.
“We’ve had to play without Joel all year,” Tobias Harris said. “The coaches have done a great job all year adapting.”
In the clinching win over the Wizards, Seth Curry scored 30 points, Harris added 28 points and nine rebounds and Ben Simmons turned in his third career playoff triple-double with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
For the Sixers to advance, they’ll likely need Embiid’s presence to defeat the Hawks. The Sixers have characterized Embiid as day-to-day.
“Jo’s been huge for us all year. It’s only right we give him as much time as he needs to get right and come back and help us win it all,” Curry said.
The Hawks ousted the New York Knicks in five games in the first round thanks in large part to Trae Young.
The surging Hawks finished 27-11 after head coach Nate McMillan replaced former Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce on March 1 to capture the No. 5 seed.
Young averaged a stellar 32.7 points in the three games at New York as the Hawks won their first playoff series in five years. So Young won’t be fazed by the large crowds in Philadelphia.
“I feel like I’ve worked my whole life for this moment — in the playoffs on the biggest stage,” Young said. “I have confidence in myself. I know I’m built for this.”
Young had 36 points and nine assists in the series clincher, a 103-89 victory.
“I texted him before the playoffs started and told him he’s built for this time of the season with the confidence he brings to the floor, his skill level for scoring the basketball and creating opportunities,” McMillan said. “It’s really tough to game plan against him.”
The Hawks have plenty of balance, however. Clint Capela had 14 points and 15 rebounds in Game 5 against the Knicks and will have a distinct advantage if Embiid can’t play. DeAndre Hunter added 15 points and John Collins had 13.
More importantly, the Hawks are coming together at just the right time before a difficult series.
“This is why I was always believing in this group,” Capela said. “This is not random.”
Three starters, including Young, are 23 or younger. But following the win over the Knicks, the group’s belief is growing.
“I saw a lot of focus,” Young said. “I saw a lot of determination. I saw guys really focused in on our mission.”
–Field Level Media