CAMDEN, N.J. — Coming off a career-playoff-low 12 points in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ 94-89 Game 2 win over the Toronto Raptors, Joel Embiid vowed to be patient so long as the Raptors keep defending him the way they have been.
“It’s all about doing whatever I’m asked to,” Embiid said Wednesday on the eve of Game 3 of the Sixers’ Eastern Conference semifinal series that’s tied 1-1. “If it’s setting screens or rolling to the basket or finding guys when I’m double- or triple-teamed, I’m going to keep on doing that.
“I’m not going to force the issue because I’m not getting the same amount of points I was before. So if I only have to take five shots and then make sure I make the right decisions, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Single coverage hasn’t gone so well for Embiid in this series, either. He has been repeatedly stymied by Raptors big man Marc Gasol. In seven career matchups with the former Defensive Player of the Year in the regular season and the playoffs, Embiid has averaged 14 points on 32.6 percent shooting — well below his career average of 24.3 points on 48.1 percent shooting.
His health has also been working against him. In Game 2, Embiid played through a bout of gastroenteritis that required him to take IV fluids before the game. Not to mention, he continues to suffer from tendinitis in his left knee that caused him to miss 14 of the Sixers’ 24 regular-season games after the All-Star break, plus Game 3 in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets. But he said that’s improving.
“It’s better,” he said. “We’re trying to manage it to make sure we know how many minutes I should play. It’s going to keep on getting better.”
Sixers coach Brett Brown doesn’t want his team to feel any better now that the Sixers have stolen home-court advantage from the Raptors, however. He wants them to remain on edge.
“I think anytime anybody feels comfortable, you’re in trouble,” Brown said. “There can be zero comfort level in anything, and it’s the dynamics of human beings, let alone athletes. It’s just how at times people are wired. It’s my job, and it’s truly the way I think, so it’s not force-fed. There is no level of comfort. … Whether it’s Game 3, 5, 2, whatever. The comfort level after a win cannot exist.”
Sixers forward Mike Scott, who was upgraded to questionable for Game 3 after practicing Wednesday for the first time since he missed the start of the series because of plantar fasciitis and a heel contusion in his right foot, said he wants Philadelphia fans to make the Raptors feel uncomfortable.
“That s— better be crazy,” Scott said. “It better be loud. I know it’s going to be crazy. I know it’s going to be loud. I’m just trying to amp them up. Trying to use some reverse psychology. But I already know it’s going to be crazy. Fans going to be wild, going nuts. Talking their s—. Cheering, hopefully booing the hell out of the other team. Holding us down like they always do.”
Jimmy Butler, coming off a team-high 30 points in Game 2, is sure to hear cheers from the Philly crowd when he’s announced in the starting lineup Thursday. Much like Embiid, though, he doesn’t want to force anything.
He got to 30 points in part by going 4-for-10 on 3-pointers. It was the most attempts from deep he has launched in 573 games in the regular season and postseason.
“I don’t like shooting 3s,” Butler said Wednesday. “I’m going to continue to play the game the right way. If I’m open, I’m going to shoot it. If not, I’m going to pass it. I’m always going to look for the open guy.”
Meanwhile, the Raptors surely would like some more success from the outside. During the regular season, Toronto ranked sixth in 3-point percentage (36.6) and eighth in made 3s per game (12.4). Through the first two games against Philadelphia, the Raptors are shooting 29.7 percent from 3 and averaging 9.5 made 3s per game.
“It’s a game of adjustments,” Embiid said. “They are going to make theirs. We got to respond to it. End of the day, all about playing hard.”