We're all looking for signs of hope. Myself included. I'm hoping this can provide a few for everyone.
This article focuses mainly on the Sixers' offense. Our most recent pod talks about the struggles the Sixers will face on defense and some ideas for lineups that may be able to survive defensively. Listen here.
If you've been reading any articles making predictions about the Sixers/Celtics series, it's pretty clear Boston is a heavy favorite, maybe even more than we thought. One of the bigger talking points has been how the Sixers size will matchup with the perimeter scoring depth of Boston. With Ben Simmons out indefinitely, and the recent news of Glenn Robinson III being out for at least 7-10 days, an already difficult task becomes even more daunting.
While it's easy to dismiss the Sixers and predict that they will have to adapt more to the Celtics stars than vice versa, there is no other way to expect the Sixers to pull the upset unless they are able to be creative with their size advantage. Embiid, Horford, and Harris all pose their own mismatches with the Celtics just as Tatum and Brown will have advantages as well.
Using their size
Here is an example of Embiid being used as a rim runner that could work just fine with Tobias or Horford in place of Simmons. The fact that Paul George went over the screen against Ben is interesting since Ben is no threat to shoot, but Horford or Harris would be, so the same action could be expected. Adams gets caught watching the ball for a split second and like that, Embiid is rolling to the rim. Boston doesn't often play more than one traditional big, so it's unlikely in a set like this that there would be any one left to get in the way of Embiid, and Lord have mercy on them if they try.
Here we see an example of using Embiid as a decoy essentially to clear the paint. This is something I'm very interested in for a few reasons:
1. No one has really stepped up to be the clear half court offense facilitator, so why not give Embiid a few chances. He's clearly worked on his passing, especially out of double teams, during the layoff.
2. This is the easiest way to exploit the size matchups for Horford and Harris, by not having anyone like Theis or Kanter as help defenders at the rim.
Can either Harris or Horford make it look this flashy? Probably not, but the premise is the same. Even if they're simply receiving the pass, landing, and going back up, they should have no problem against defenders such as Tatum, Brown, or any other wings in this kind of situation.
Here is another example of Embiid as a capable perimeter passer. This is actually a time where Ben's unwillingness to shoot helps him, as his defender is playing off of him expecting him to remain stationary, and thus not a threat, allowing him to cut. Harris nor Horford are likely to get someone playing that far off of them, but it is also a credit to Embiid's gravity, and while maybe he would have to attempt to penetrate just a little bit to draw a defender that far off of Harris/Horford, if those two can be active as cutters, they can find chances at the rim, or at least post up opportunities against smaller defenders.
Here is an example of just having a capable passer on the perimeter in Horford, and how he can be useful in getting the ball to Embiid. Embiid takes advantage of his strength here against Covington with an easy spin to the basket. Either Celtics center would offer much more resistance than this, but still, this is a scenario the Sixers want to create. The biggest takeaway here? Embiid makes his move immediately. No time for a double team to come or for anyone to try to help at the rim. We have all pulled our hair out at times with Embiid holding the ball as if he's Kobe, and if he tries that against Boston, they will frustrate him and wear him down with double teams.
This is another example of Ben's lack of shooting allowing him some space to cut, but this is also a nice look at Korkmaz being used as a facilitator, which he may need to spend some time doing with the Sixers missing GRIII. Boston may try to be aggressive against Korkmaz, who has improved his handle, but is by no means great. If he can simply manage and draw a bit of attention, a set like this where he draws help and finds a cutter could be huge on a second unit with someone like Horford.
With the Celtics likely playing small, using a heavy amount of screens could be another area of opportunity for the Sixers. Embiid and Horford especially should be able to make it difficult for the smaller Celtics to fight through these, and this not only creates opportunities on offense, but wears down the smaller Celtics, and could show it's signs in close late game situations. Here we see Harris get free to the rim via two screens, which again, Boston usually only having one traditional big means if Embiid is setting the screen further out, there is likely no one home to stop penetration. While almost everyone is saying it will take a "Herculean" effort from Embiid for the Sixers to stay in this series, Boston is expecting just that. I think there may be some opportunities here for the Sixers to exploit that and get the rest of the team going early in this series and provide confidence that they can have a shot.
Only four teams that are in the playoffs took less three point attempts than the Sixers this season: Indiana, OKC, Denver, and the Lakers. Despite our rumblings all year, the Sixers actually shot the three ninth best in the league. So while not a volume shooting team, the Sixers are very efficient, and that is based on their ability to play inside-out. With Embiid easily being the best post scorer in the league, he commands the same type of gravity people talk about elite three point shooters drawing, just by collapsing the defense in rather than out. While the Sixers don't have one elite three point shooter, they have plenty of capable guys still. With Boston not having a clear answer to Embiid, if he can get going early, they could set themselves up for success on the perimeter by the attention he draws.
Boston has a history of having success doubling Embiid, and they will send the second man from all areas of the court, especially with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. We saw improvements from Embiid in the bubble so far, but we didn't see many exotic looks or capable defenders in those scenarios. If Embiid can truly show he's put in the work and execute against the Celtics looks, the Sixers still have the shooting to be able to hit when the opportunity is there. I think when we look back at this series, especially if the Sixers pull the upset, Embiid's passing may be one of, if not the biggest story.