— Jonathan Geib
For the fifth time in the last six seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In each of those previous four trips, they were sent packing with disappointing ends to their season. In two of the last five seasons, they have been eliminated from the playoffs by their divisional rival, the Boston Celtics, whom they will now face yet again. Will the result be any different this time around? And can the Sixers advance to their first Conference Finals since the 2000-01 season?
Stop me if you have heard this before, Joel Embiid will not be fully healthy in the playoffs. Yes, I know I sound like a broken record from years passed, however, Embiid is nursing a sprained LCL in his right knee and his status for the series remains uncertain. The presumptive NBA MVP is expected to give it a go for Game 1 Monday night in Boston, but his effectiveness is the biggest question. What version of Embiid will we see? We all hope he is the dominant player who put up 52 points in the Sixers’ last meeting with the Celtics, but that may be too much to ask.
Due to recent head-to-head success, the Celtics own so much real estate in the Sixers’ heads. This past season the Sixers went 1-3 versus the Celtics and in the last two playoff matchups between these franchises, the Sixers are 1-8! That is a remarkably crushing record and you can be certain the Sixers’ players are aware of their recent struggles against their ‘big brother.’
This year felt different to me though. Embiid seemed to take it personally in their last matchup and it gave me hope that he could help galvanize and will this Sixers team to heights they have not been to in over two decades. This is his MVP year and this is his team! He was not going to let us lose to Boston…and then he got hurt, again. I am honestly scared for the Sixers heading into this series. Even with a healthy Embiid, this felt like it would be a tight series. Now with the uncertainty surrounding our best player, it gets even more questionable.
There is something to be said for the ‘heart of a champion’ though, and I think that Embiid is going to show that in this series. With the Bucks eliminated, the winner of this series has a clear path to the NBA Finals and Embiid knows that. I expect him to pain manage this injury and recognize the rare opportunity that lies ahead. This year we will overcome Boston.
Final prediction: Sixers in 7