The Celtics may face a short-handed Philadelphia 76ers squad in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, as league MVP candidate Joel Embiid has been listed as doubtful with an LCL sprain.
The All-Star forward sustained the injury to his right knee in the Sixers Game 3 win over the Brooklyn Nets back on April 20 and didn't play in Philly's series clincher the following game.
On Saturday, 76ers coach Doc Rivers unofficially ruled Embiid "doubtful" for their best-of-7 opener against Boston.
"Obviously, the doctors looked at him [yesterday]," Rivers said of Embiid in his post-practice presser. "He didn't do anything today. I'll say this: If I was a betting man, I would probably say doubtful for at least Game 1, but we'll see. … He did nothing today. Nothing yet -- just wasn't able to. And obviously, we were hopeful for today."
The Sixers completed a four-game sweep of the Nets last Saturday and Embiid has not participated in practice at all over the past week. Despite catching a break with the Celtics needing six games to eliminate the Atlanta Hawks, Rivers isn't taking his former team lightly.
"They're a terrific team," he said. "They're well-coached. They spread the floor, they attack. They're deep; they have a lot of weapons. Obviously, [Jayson Tatum] and [Jaylen Brown], but [Al] Horford, [Derrick] White, [Malcolm] Brogdon -- you can just keep going down the list. They just have a lot of guys that can play basketball."And like I've said with other teams, they've been to the Finals -- they get it. They've been through any type of adversity. Nothing's going to shake them, and we've got to be ready for that."
Meanwhile, if there's anything head coach Joe Mazzulla has learned in the series against the Hawks it's his team has to play their game no matter who the opponent is.
"They play a little bit faster," said Mazzulla during Saturday's his post-practice comments on the Sixers approach without Embiid. "Obviously, each guy’' more aggressive, I think. They're more empowered, whether it's Harden, whether it's Maxey, whether it's Harris. They’re looking to affect the game in different ways, and they play a little bit of a different pace."
For a newcomer to the Celtics-Sixers rivalry like Malcolm Brogdon, he understands how important Embiid is to how Philly plays -- even if they are 1-8 in the postseason against Boston over the last two times they've meet -- other players are expected to step up for the 76ers.
"It doesn't change our mindset; it does change our game plan," Brogdon said to reporters Saturday. "That's a team that's built around Joel. Everything he does, all the isos, just a high level of scoring. Now that scoring is going to be a little bit dispersed; Harden's going to be more aggressive, Maxey is going to be more aggressive, and then all the role guys of course are going to be more aggressive. They've got a lot of good players, so we can’t just focus in on one guy."
As the Celtics are set to renew their rivalry with the Sixers and even with a banged up Embiid to begin this chapter, Boston will have to play with energy, pace and effort -- especially on the defense end. Against the Hawks, Mazzulla saw old habits creep in like even downplaying to Atlanta in costly moments to close their first-round series.
"I mean, really at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how they play," said Mazzulla of Philadelphia. "We have to be prepared to make the right reads. we have to be prepared to have the proper spacing, we have to be prepared to manage the game with our offense."
The Celtics host the 76ers in Game 1 Monday night at TD Garden and TNT has a 7:30 ET tip-off.
Photo used courtesy Getty Images
Photo used courtesy Getty Images