After the most lopsided Game 1 victory so far, consider the question answered. Emphatically.
The 76ers head into Tuesday’s Game 2 8 p.m. showdown with the Miami Heat riding a 17-game winning streak — including Saturday’s 130-103 win at Wells Fargo Center — and with the knowledge that Joel Embiid’s return may come sooner than later.
For their first playoff trip in more than a half-decade, things aren’t starting off so bad for Philadelphia.
“Now I think we are 26-1 at home since Christmas, we’ve won a lot of games in a row, it sort of all adds up,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We’ve talked a lot about how do we come out of halftime. Lots of times in the normal regular season it’s not uncommon for both teams to need to have the dust shaken off of them to respond and start playing competitive basketball again.”
Philadelphia seemed well-oiled — and well-prepared — against the Heat in Game 1, even after trailing by four at the half. The 76ers blitzed Miami with a 34-18 third quarter and then slammed the door shut with a 40-25 fourth quarter, hitting the 130-point mark for the third time in five games.
“They just played unbelievably,” Miami guard Goran Dragic said. “They were hitting some shots, they didn’t run away from the game. They were physical the whole game. They have some good shooters. We just fell apart at the end of third, beginning of the fourth quarter. We didn’t play defense well. Most of the shots, that’s the shots, they were making. We can do nothing about that. We need to go and see film, try to get better and get back to work Monday.”
If Embiid returns sooner than later, the Heat could be in big trouble.
Embiid cleared concussion protocol on Sunday, Brown said, though the team does not have a specific date for return. Embiid, who missed the final eight games of the regular season after colliding with teammate Markelle Fultz and suffering an orbital bone fracture and a concussion, told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that he feels ready to contribute.
“If it was my decision, I would play, but I can’t get back out on the court if I don’t have the OK from them,” said Embiid, who averaged 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 63 games in the regular season. “But everything has been going well. I’ve been able to do everything. And I feel great. So we got a pretty good chance for Game 2 or Game 3. We gonna see how it feels in the next couple of days.”
Should Embiid return, the 76ers will add to their decisive front-court advantage over the Heat. Miami’s best offensive post player may be reserve forward Kelly Olynyk, who had 26 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench in Game 1.
Center Hassan Whiteside had just two points and six rebounds in 12 minutes in the first game.
“It’s not about him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “This series and this game are going to move quickly. There are a lot of substitutions both ways and there is not a lot of time based on the flow and the matchups. It’s not necessarily an indictment to his first four minutes but we all have to collectively be better on Monday.”