76ers can win ‘a few games’ without Joel Embiid, but their title hopes hinge on MVP finalist’s health

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The Philadelphia 76ers made short work of the Washington Wizards in the first round of the NBA playoffs. They won the series in five games, and it very likely would have been a sweep if Joel Embiid didn’t get injured early on in Game 4. The Sixers closed off the series with 129-112 win over the Wizards in Game 5 without Embiid, who is currently being listed as day-to-day with a small tear in his right meniscus. At this point, his status for the remainder of the postseason is a mystery. 

Several Sixers stepped up to close out the series. Ben Simmons recorded a triple-double with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while Tobias Harris had 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Seth Curry led the Sixers with a playoff career high 30 points, and Philadelphia’s bench outscored Washington’s, 40-19. It was the exact type of team effort you like to see when a star player is out of the lineup. Everyone stepped up, and it was enough to end Washington’s season. After the game, the Sixers said all the right things about being about to take care of business without the big man in the middle. 

“We’ve got the pieces and tools to do it,” Simmons said of pulling out postseason wins without Embiid. “We’ve been in this situation before during the season. We didn’t always have a full team. So, we know what we have to do. It starts on defense.” 

“We know we’ve got enough without Joel out there to win a few games,” Curry added. “We don’t have a choice — we’ve got to have that confidence and believe. We’ve got a lot of confident guys. Joel has been huge for us all year. It’s only right for us to give him as much time as he needs to get back and help us win it all.”  

Curry hit the nail on the head with his quote. The Sixers are a talented and deep team. They do have enough to win some games without Embiid. The key word there being some. The questions now obviously looming over the Sixers are will Embiid be able to play again in these playoffs? And how healthy will he be if he does? If Embiid plays and looks somewhat close to his regular season self, the Sixers should be able to take care of their second-round opponent — the Atlanta Hawks. If Embiid is out for the series, or some of it, the Sixers will still have a chance to beat Atlanta, but it certainly won’t be easy. The Hawks, led by Trae Young, can be deadly on the offensive end, and under interim head coach Nate McMillan they have improved dramatically defensively as well. 

During the regular season, the Sixers were 10-11 in games where Embiid didn’t play. During those games, their team points per game average dipped from 115.4 to 109.3, and their point differential per game dropped dramatically from 8.0 to -0.4. Those are just a couple stats out of a multitude that could be used to illustrate how important Embiid is to what Philadelphia does on both ends of the floor. There’s a reason that he’s an MVP finalist. 

Even if the Sixers are ultimately able to advance past Atlanta, they’ll have no shot against either the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks without Embiid. He’s the one player that could potentially tilt either one of those series in Philadelphia’s favor. And so, it is as it’s always been since the Sixers selected Embiid with the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Their success is inextricably tied to Embiid’s health, which is often an uncertainty. 

Embiid was the crown jewel (as former Sixers head coach Brett Brown used to say) of Philadelphia’s much ballyhooed rebuilding process, and the Sixers will continue to go as far as he can take them. If he can get back out on the court in the not-too-distant future and look like his old self, the Sixers will have a real chance at a title. If he can’t, their outcome becomes much more bleak. 

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