Will Joel Embiid be available for the start of the Celtics-Sixers series when the second-round series tips off Monday night? Boston is bracing for both possibilities.
"It’s not so much the game plan as much as it is the understanding of who they are when he’s not in the game," Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said Sunday when asked after his team’s practice if the game plan changes without Embiid.
"That could be 10 minutes, that could be for 48 minutes. It doesn’t matter but they have a clear identity and each guy is going to rise to the level of who they are when he’s not in, and so we just have to be ready for that."
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What exactly changes without Embiid?
"They play a little bit faster," said Mazzulla. "Obviously, each guy is more aggressive. I think they’re more empowered whether it’s [James] Harden, whether it’s [Tyrese] Maxey, whether it’s [Tobias] Harris. They’re looking to affect the game in different ways, and they play a little bit of a different pace.
"So definitely paying attention to some of those games, some of their play-call frequency and kind of what their identity is as a team without him."
Malcolm Brogdon cited how Philadelphia is 12-5 playing without Embiid this season, suggesting the coaching staff has hammered home Philadelphia’s ability to maintain a high level of play without him.
Brogdon also echoed Mazzulla’s suggestion that Boston’s mentality can’t change regardless of the MVP candidate’s status.
"It doesn’t change our mindset; it does change our game-plan,” said Brogdon. "That’s a team that’s built around Joel, everything he does. All the ISOs and just a high level of scoring, and now that scoring is going to be a little bit dispersed. Harden is gonna be more aggressive, Maxey is gonna be more aggressive, and then all the role guys are gonna be more aggressive. They’ve got a lot of good players so we can’t just focus in on one guy.”
Are the Sixers that much different without Embiid?
"For sure, they’re definitely two different teams," said Brogdon. "The team without — I think games he hasn’t played they’re 12-5 — so they’re a really good team without him as well on both sides of the ball. Without him, defensively, I think everybody guards a little bit better. They don’t have a 7-[foot]-1 guy at the rim. Offensively, I think the ball moves more and everybody is more aggressive and more confident."
During the regular season, the Sixers posted a +8.8 net rating in Embiid’s 2,284 minutes on the court. That plummeted to a team-worst minus-1.5 net rating in his 1,692 minutes on the bench.
The Sixers’ offensive rating dipped by nearly seven points in those non-Embiid minutes during the regular season. Cleaning the Glass data suggested the Sixers’ expected win total was 25 games higher based on the on/off differentials.
The Celtics can’t control whether Embiid is on the court, and ultimately, Mazzulla wants his team to stay focused on what they do best.
"At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how they play," said Mazzulla. "We have to be prepared to make the right reads. We have to be prepared to make the proper spacing. We have to be prepared to manage the game with our offense.
"I thought our rim reads, I thought our spacing, I thought our screening was very good in the Atlanta series for the majority of it, which helped us manage the game and manage their transition offense."