Rust was so much more evident than rest.
Despite having some important veterans, the 76ers will only go as far as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will guide them. It’s not just scoring. It’s about defense. It’s about playoff intensity. It’s about growing up quick into young leaders.
Embiid and Simmons put up good numbers but the Sixers were bounced 117-101 by the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night.
A long series could potentially still be in play if the young dynamic duo can respond in a big way.
“You can’t blame (the loss) on being rust, or rest,” Embiid told reporters on the podium postgame. “We’re NBA players, we’re in the Playoffs. We got to be ready for every game.”
The Sixers were once 36-30 and a playoff berth was still uncertain. Then they reeled off an amazing 16 straight wins. What followed was an impressive victory over the Miami Heat in five games in the opening round of the playoffs.
Even without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics proved their mettle. This isn’t the Heat. This series will be much tougher.
JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli are terrific veterans yet the Sixers need Embiid and Simmons to elevate their games to another level.
That challenge is up to head coach Brett Brown.
The former highly-successful assistant under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs, Brown has done an incredible job in his fifth season with the Sixers. He’s arguably the Coach of the Year. He’s meticulous and prepared. He’s caring. He’s resilient. Who else could stay so positive after compiling so many losses in his first four seasons?
Brown must find ways to get his young core to play better.
“I’ve never felt, ‘Here we are,’ even when we won so many games in a row,” Brown told reporters. “Because of that, you never felt, ‘Wow, are we good.’ I’ve never felt that. It’s not any knock on my team, our team. I like keeping us honest and fighting for things. That mindset and that attitude is genuine for me, and I hope my players feel it, too. It certainly doesn’t diminish confidence. It’s coached or delivered that way. I hope we walk a line of both things.”
Embiid had 31 points and 12 rebounds. Simmons added 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
And the Sixers lost by 16.
The second round of the playoffs isn’t like a regular season game in February or March.
Brown is fully aware of this fact as a seasoned NBA coach. One loss doesn’t end a series. The key is to come back and make adjustments. It sounds so simple, but it’s not.
“It’s a long series,” Brown said. “It gets harder and harder, as it should. I feel like if we can stay balanced, stay together, and not overreact to stuff, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
For the Sixers to even the series Thursday and ultimately hope to win and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s up to Brown to lift this young group yet again. Brown and his staff will tweak and adjust and maneuver. They’ll be diligent. They’ll do everything humanly possible to continue playing. That you can expect.