The Philadelphia 76ers haven’t held a championship since 1983.
This season seemed like their best chance at a parade since 2001 when they lost in five games in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.
When MVP finalist Joel Embiid suffered a minor lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in Game 4 of the first round against the Washington Wizards, the Sixers’ championship aspirations were damaged.
The top-seeded Sixers dispatched the Wizards in five games and will now open the Eastern Conference semifinals at home Sunday afternoon against the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
Embiid’s state of play is highly in doubt.
“I can’t give you a schedule,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said.
Embiid missed 21 of 72 regular-season games and the Sixers were 10-11 without him. They won Game 5 against the Wizards without Embiid.
But these are the playoffs. Winning games will be much more difficult.
“We’ve had to play without Joel all year,” Tobias Harris said. “The coaches have done a great job all year adapting.”
In the decisive win over the Wizards, Seth Curry scored 30 points, Harris added 28 points and nine rebounds and Ben Simmons had his third career playoff triple-double with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
For the Sixers to advance, they will likely need Embiid’s presence to defeat the Hawks. The Sixers have characterized Embiid as the day to day.
“Jo has been huge for us all year. It’s right that we give him all the time he needs to get it right and come back and help us win it all, ”Curry said.
The Hawks defeated the New York Knicks in five games in the first round thanks in large part to Trae Young.
The Hawks finished 27-11 after head coach Nate McMillan replaced former Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce on March 1 to capture No. 5 seeds.
Young averaged 32.7 stellar points in the three games in New York when the Hawks won their first playoff series in five years. So Young won’t be fazed by the huge crowds in Philadelphia.
“I feel like I’ve worked my entire life for this moment – in the playoffs on the biggest stage,” Young said. “I trust in myself. I know I’m cut out for this. “
Young had 36 points and nine assists in the deciding series, a 103-89 victory.
“I texted him before the playoffs started and told him I was prepared for this moment of the season with the confidence he brings to the court, his skill level to score basketball and create opportunities,” McMillan said. “It’s really difficult to plan the game against him.”
However, the Hawks have a lot of balance. Clint Capela had 14 points and 15 rebounds in Game 5 against the Knicks and will have a clear advantage if Embiid can’t play. DeAndre Hunter added 15 points and John Collins had 13.
More importantly, the Hawks are coming together at the right time before a difficult series.
“That’s why I always believed in this group,” Capela said. “This is not random.”
Three starters, including Young, are 23 or younger. But after the victory over the Knicks, the group’s belief is growing.
“I saw a lot of focus,” Young said. “I saw a lot of determination. I saw guys really focused on our mission. “
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