For a while during the first half of Saturday’s Game 1 it looked like the Miami Heat might be able to capitalize on the absence of Joel Embiid, who has been in the NBA’s concussion protocol since March 28. Miami had a six-point lead after the first quarter; their lead in the first half grew to as large as 12. A game!
It wound up not being much of a game: J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli went nuts; Ben Simmons orchestrated beautifully, to the tune of 73 passes, 14 assists, and a couple more secondary assists; Irsan Ilyasova and Dario Saric might possibly be the same person, but at any rate they combined to knock down seven of 10 three-point tries; and Hassan Whiteside, known enemy of Embiid, played just 12 minutes and was in all ways a non-factor. Embiid, for his part, was relegated to bell-ringing duties, in a bitchin’ “Phantom of the Opera” mask:
The Heat might be in deep shit. They lost to the 76ers by 27 points in a game in which Joel Embiid never played, and now Embiid has apparently cleared the concussion protocol, which presumably constitutes a significant step towards returning to action.
This series shifts to Miami on Thursday, so there are a few days of rest in there where whatever is still keeping Embiid out of Game 2 could presumably clear up. The Sixers played Whiteside off the floor Saturday by going small and fast and putting shooters on the floor, but the Whiteside-Embiid matchup has been a fascinating one this season: Whiteside got the better of Embiid back on March 8 (incidentally, the loss to the Heat was Philly’s second-to-last loss of the season); Embiid dominated Whiteside in a Sixers win back on February 2; and the two behemoths played to something like a draw in a one-point Heat win on February 27.
It’s possible the Sixers pose more trouble for the Heat when their interchangeable Euro-bigs make Whiteside an enormous defensive liability, but the matchup I want to see has the two 7-footers crashing into each other and talking endless shit across a long playoff series. These two were beefing in the preseason, with Whiteside hinting at fireworks in the regular season. I can only imagine the intensity of a playoff clash.