76ers down 0-2, still unsure of Embiid status

MIAMI — After dropping their first two games on the shores of Biscayne Bay to open that Eastern Conference semifinal against the Heat without superstar big man Joel Embiid, a question hangs over the Philadelphia 76ers then as the series returns to the City of Brotherly Love for Game 3 on Friday night:

Will Embiid be able to play in Game 3?

“I really don’t know,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said after Wednesday night’s 119-103 loss to Miami in Game 2, which Philadelphia again played without Embiid due to the facial fracture and from the concussion he suffered against the Toronto Raptors last week. “We talked [Tuesday]and we talked [Wednesday].

“He looked good, speech-wise. But he’s got so many steps to go, and I don’t think he’s taken any yet. So we have to wait and see.”

Without Embiid, Philadelphia was again overwhelmed in Game 2. Miami topped the paint, passing Philadelphia 44-34 and earning 21 second-chance points.

Meanwhile, the 76ers couldn’t buy a 3-pointer again, going 8-for-30 in Game 2 to make the 76ers 14-for-64 from 3-point range in the first two games of this series.

“I liked the shots tonight,” Rivers said. “We had open eyes.

“But 8 for 30, with the shots you get, it’s tough. Just look at the difference. They were 14 for 29. You can put the game there.”

The Heat, for their part, bounced back from their own tough shooting performance in Game 1.

Like in Game 1, Philadelphia found ways to hang around even without their superstar center for much of this contest. Tyrese Maxey scored 34 points, constantly exploding in transition or cutting Miami’s defense to the brim. Tobias Harris had another solid two-way performance, finishing with 21 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.

James Harden also played better, scoring 20 points with nine assists, as he continues to see the same kind of massive attention given to him that the Heat gave to Hawks star Trae Young in the first round.

“They did a really good job putting two on the ball and trying to deprive me of the whole pitch, so it gave our guys more room to be aggressive if they had to deny me wherever I was on. the field,” Harden said.

“Give them credit. But I feel like if we do shoot, and I keep saying this, it opens up the field a bit more, and you have to respect our shooters now.”

Something else would distract Harden more: Embiid returning to the field.

And while Rivers won’t say if Embiid would return, the Heat certainly expect to see the NBA Most Valuable Player award finalist for a second straight season speak in Game 3.

“It changes dramatically,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked what Embiid’s return would mean for the series. “You talk about MVP talent, you know? So we’ll just have to see.

“We knew this show was going to change, and it was going to change quite drastically. [if he returns]. It better change drastically when we are able to get some wins [first] but yeah, he changes the equation a bit.”

The question now, however, is not just whether Embiid will be able to play in Game 3 – but whether his return will be enough to swing this series in Philadelphia’s favor. In addition to Embiid’s injuries, Georges Niang favored a knee in Game 2. Rivers admitted that Niang had been playing less than 100% for “some time now”.

Matisse Thybulle, who was playing part-time in the first-round series from Philadelphia to Toronto because he didn’t meet Canadian vaccine requirements, looked lost offensively. Danny Green is now 2 for 14 from 3-point range in the series.

Embiid’s presence would certainly help relieve some of the pressure on his teammates and clearly give Harden more breathing room. But it is far from certain that he will come back 100% even if he is able to come back.

“If Joel is back, great,” Maxey said. “If he’s not back, you just gotta keep fighting. It’s a fight. It’ll be a fight again on Friday. I think [one thing] that we take from [these games] is going to them. Attack them. Don’t dance, don’t play with the ball in front of guys. Go right at them, down the hill, then once they help spray it on our shooters or finish over.”

Whether Embiid is on the court or not, however, Rivers said his team would be ready to fight to get back into the series in front of their home crowd.

“That’s what the movie is for, and that’s what the tweaks are for,” Rivers said.

“And we will be ready for Game 3.”

ESPN’s Nick Friedell contributed to this report.

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