Some thoughts, nuggets, notes, and musings as the Celtics prepare to open the Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers on Monday night …
▪ 76ers coach Doc Rivers did not sound optimistic about star center Joel Embiid’s status when he met with reporters in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. Rivers said the 76ers had hoped that Embiid, who is sidelined with a knee sprain, would be able to take part in some of Saturday’s practice, but he could not. Rivers added that Embiid should be considered doubtful for “at least” Game 1.
It’s possible the 76ers are engaging in gamesmanship to divert the Celtics’ plan, but Rivers’s comments have become increasingly cryptic. And the fact that Embiid was unable to take part in a workout a little more than 48 hours before Game 1 is telling. The 76ers have actually played well without Embiid this season, but make no mistake, they have no chance in this series if he is unavailable or limited.
▪ By losing Game 5 of their opening-round series against the Hawks, the Celtics ensured that the Philadelphia series would start Monday instead of Saturday, giving Embiid two more days of rest. But it looks like that missed opportunity for the Celtics could become irrelevant. Game 3 was going to be played in Philadelphia on Friday regardless. The three-day gap between games is just coming now instead of later in the week.
▪ Embiid’s status aside, there is certainly a difference between Saturday night and Wednesday night playoff crowds at TD Garden. The Celtics will miss out on that, but the noise level will be piercing regardless.
▪ It takes good players and some luck to win a title. The Celtics have always had good players, and right now just about everything else is going their way, too.
First, the Hawks did the Celtics a favor by upsetting the Heat in the No. 7-seed play-in game. Then Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo essentially missed the first three games of the Miami series after taking a hard fall. By the time he returned, there was no stopping the momentum of Jimmy Butler and the Heat.
Now, it appears the Celtics will face a 76ers team that is without the likely MVP for at least the start of the series, if not all of it. On the other side of the bracket, Kawhi Leonard had quietly been the NBA’s most dominant player over the last six weeks or so, and the Clippers suddenly became formidable and were on the verge of welcoming back Paul George. Then Leonard went down with a knee injury and the Suns pushed them aside.
The Warriors are on the brink of elimination, and the Suns struggled to put away a Clippers team missing its two stars.
The Celtics, meanwhile, have avoided major injuries since Danilo Gallinari suffered an ACL tear last summer. They are the heavy title favorites, and this core will probably never get a chance that is more navigable than this one.
▪ As the Celtics sat in their locker room about 90 minutes before Game 6 in Atlanta on Thursday night, they launched into a spirited discussion about their top three condiments. Mayonnaise and horseradish were the two most debated choices.
▪ The Western Conference remains a crapshoot, but has any No. 1 seed been disregarded as much as the Nuggets? And unlike the Bucks and 76ers, their MVP candidate, Nikola Jokic, is still cooking.
▪ Before we move on from the first round, let’s take a moment to salute the Hawks. They were overmatched and could easily have folded after falling behind, 2-0. But they battled and appeared to grow under coach Quin Snyder over the course of the series.
For the Celtics, the test should be more valuable than a four-game sweep.
▪ Celtics forward Jaylen Brown is from the Atlanta area, and his games there always hold extra meaning. After the Game 6 win at State Farm Arena, Brown reminisced about going to a game as a fan there for the first time when he was 7 years old. His aunt bought him tickets and he sat in the upper deck.
“There was probably a kid that was sitting up there, a 7-year-old, that was probably watching me today, feeling the same way I was feeling back then,” Brown said Thursday night. “So my message to him is, ‘Good luck, I’ll be waiting.’ ”
▪ It’s certainly possible that the Celtics could face the 76ers, Knicks, and Lakers on their path to a title. Putting aside the fact that that’d be just about the least-challenging route imaginable — especially with Embiid out — the level of rivalry spice would be off the charts.
▪ Condolences to the family of Celtics vice president of public relations Heather Walker, who died at the age of 52 Wednesday after battling brain cancer for nearly two years. Heather always had a smile on her face and seemed to keep a proper perspective in this NBA world that can become overwhelming if one lets it.