Before the Philadelphia 76ers played Game 5 of their first-round series against the Washington Wizards Wednesday, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry played “Call of Duty.” Simmons told reporters after the win that during that gaming session, he told Curry that the Sixers needed 30 points out of him. Curry delivered. The veteran guard matched Wizards star Bradley Beal shot for shot in scoring 30 points on 10 of 17 from the field. More importantly, he helped Philadelphia put away the Wizards, 129-122, and make it through the first round despite the absence of star center Joel Embiid.
“You can only win a championship if you get out of the first round,” Curry said after the win. “We took care of business, especially without Joel. We showed why we’re the No. 1 seed.”
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As the No. 1 seed, the 76ers have thankfully managed to avoid the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, but that doesn’t mean their path forward is going to be easy. The No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks finished off the New York Knicks on Wednesday and look like one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Atlanta is 31-12 since March 1, including the postseason, a half-game better than Philadelphia has been at that span at 30-12. Unlike the Hawks, Philadelphia is missing its best player.
Embiid suffered a ‘small’ tear to his right meniscus in Game 4, and his timetable for a return is unclear. Curry carried the Philadelphia offense without Embiid on Wednesday, and he’ll have to keep that up against a far less forgiving Hawks defense. Atlanta just held Knicks All-Star Julius Randle to 33.3 percent shooting in the first round, thanks to some stellar work from second-year wing De’Andre Hunter and a commitment to keeping him out of the paint and turning him into a jump shooter. They will no doubt deploy similar tactics against Simmons and dare Philadelphia, which attempted the fifth-fewest 3-pointers in the NBA this season, to beat them from behind the arc.
The 76ers did just fine in that arena with Embiid, making nearly 39 percent of their 3-pointers in their first games against the Wizards, but aside from Curry and Tobias Harris, they made just four of their 16 other attempts from behind the arc in Game 5. The Sixers will need more red-hot performances from Curry if they hope to keep up with the scorching Hawks, but their success or failure without Embiid will depend on more than a single player. Simmons will need scoring support from the entire roster, and if he gets it, Philadelphia will have a real chance at advancing to the Eastern Conference finals with or without Embiid.