The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on to the second round of the 2023 NBA playoffs. They just marched their way into a four-game sweep of the young, new-look Brooklyn Nets in a low-scoring series (compared to today’s game, at least). That’s despite Joel Embiid missing the last game due to a sprained right knee – more on that later.
While the Sixers’ defense proved to be key, it was the way they controlled the pace in pretty much all of the four meetings that made a bigger difference. They let Nets forward Mikal Bridges get his points (25.1 PPG in the series), but they, in turn, scored 103.7 points per game with an average winning margin of 11.2 points, only allowed the Nets to shoot 44% from the field, and also limited them below the century mark in Games 2, 3, and 4.
We’re not forgetting that it’s just the first round, but they’re the only East team to sweep the opening series, so at the very least, it has to add to confidence and rhythm.
Such is always a welcomed boost for a team that has experienced playoff shortcomings year after year, head coach Doc Rivers included, whose list is even longer. Such is also why Embiid’s sprained right knee is frustrating. It’s one thing to have your star deal with an injury because the really good ones respond well, and it’s another to have it god bad that he has to miss games, which is what they are expecting as of the moment.
It’s yet another obstacle for the Sixers, and it hit just when they’re stacking momentum. It felt good that they locked a sweep on the road without their main man. However, everyone knows they can’t keep it up in the next series, even for half of it.
On a slightly bright side, though, there is hope that Joel won’t sit on the sidelines watching his team get pounded since it appears to be a sprain and not a tear. Here’s an expert’s take:
Further, according to the University of Utah, ACL sprains are classified as a minor injury more than anything:
“ACL sprains are minor injuries with little long-term damage to the ligament. Sprains usually heal in one to two weeks with rest, icing, and over-the-counter pain medication as recommended by your orthopedic specialist.”
It will depend on two things that are almost impossible to tell – first, the recovery period, which obviously varies from player to player, and second, the other series that they’re waiting for.
Prepping for the next round
In any case, the second round will either be against the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics or the Atlanta Hawks, whom they embarrassingly lost to in the 2021 playoffs, and it’s very likely that it’s the former. That adds to the storyline since it’s a team that Embiid has been itching to beat. The Sixers are only 12-15 against Boston since he debuted in 2016, and that’s excluding the two postseason losses, one of which was a first-round sweep in the 2020 Bubble.
One can argue that this is the best chance Embiid has against the Celtics thus far. He is at the top of his game, winning the scoring title (33.1 PPG) for the second-straight season and maybe finally the NBA Most Valuable Player award. Along with that, he has former MVP and elite offensive weapon James Harden, rising guard Tyrese Maxey, and a balanced supporting cast.
It’ll be a shame to get deprived of a Celtics vs. Sixers playoff series this season.