2 players exceeding expectations, 2 players struggling for 76ers vs. Nets

James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets, NBA Playoffs (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets, NBA Playoffs (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
3 of 4
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

2 players struggling for Philadelphia 76ers vs. Nets

— Joel Embiid

There is important context to Joel Embiid’s struggles. Obviously, it goes without saying that Embiid’s influence over both games has been overwhelmingly positive. He is an MVP talent, with the kind of gravitational pull that can warp Brooklyn’s defense and make life much easier for teammates. He was also flat-out sensational on the defensive end down the stretch of game two, when the Sixers made their stand and pulled ahead for the victory.

But, Joel Embiid is about to win MVP. No player is facing a heavier burden of expectation this postseason than the big fella. The Sixers have never been past the second round during Embiid’s tenure, always for one reason for another. Embiid has faced a slew of unfortunate injuries and cosmically cursed teammates. But right now, he’s as healthy as he’s ever going to be in April, and the offense just isn’t where it needs to be.

Embiid scored 20 points on 11 (!!!) shot attempts in game two. The Nets have a lot of length and have been unafraid to throw it at Embiid in waves. He’s seeing double teams frequently, and while he has made an effort to playmake for teammates, his eight turnovers (to seven assists) in game two suggests that he’s not operating as sharply as he needs to.

The Sixers have a spacious margin for error in this Nets series. Brooklyn just isn’t on their level unless the Sixers magnificently underperform. If we are to project forward, however, the margin for error is infinitesimal in a potential Boston series — and the Celtics are much better defensively than the Nets, with a proven Embiid-deterrent in their employ in Al Horford. Embiid has dominated in other areas of the game against Brooklyn, but he will have to post more robust offensive performances in future series if the Sixers want to win.