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April 29, 2019

Angelo Cataldi: Joel Embiid, Brett Brown must step up against Raptors before it's too late

Opinion Sixers
Joel-Embiid-Marc-Gasol-Sixers-Raptors-0428_USAT John E. Sokolowski /USA Today Sports

The battle between Joel Embiid and Marc Gasol will be key through the rest of the series.

Kawhi Leonard 45, Joel Embiid 16.

Is there anything else to say about Game 1 of the second-round playoff game between the 76ers and Toronto Raptors? Leonard was amazing, amassing that career high on 16 for 22 shooting. Embiid was not, connecting on only 5 of 18 and parking his tired butt on the bench for the last seven minutes of a lost cause.

Hey, a bad game can happen to anyone, but the fact that the Raptors have beaten the Sixers 14 straight times north of the border does not bode well for Philly's championship hopes. Really, the only chance the Sixers have to beat a deeper, more explosive team like Toronto is for Embiid to dominate.

Unfortunately, Marc Gasol has a knack for preventing that from happening, as the lumbering center demonstrated again on Saturday night. As Kyle Neubeck – the best writer covering the Sixers in this city – so clairvoyantly pointed out right here on this website two days before the game, Gasol is an effective antidote to Embiid’s power game.

While the Sixers were adding quality players like Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris before the trade deadline, the Raptors acquired Gasol for the specific role he played in Game 1. Embiid is going to have to find ways to exploit his advantage in athleticism in the contests ahead, or it’ll be sayonara sooner than anybody predicted.

After the game, Sixers coach Brett Brown said: “I have to help him more.” There’s only one problem with that comment. Brown was already on the record saying the same thing before the game, and he did nothing discernible to assist Embiid on Saturday night.

This situation raises a bigger issue, of course – whether Brown is an astute enough tactician to maximize the formidable talent on his roster. Based on Sixers' managing partner Joshua Harris’ comment that it would be “very problematic” if the Sixers didn’t advance further than the second round this season, the coach has six games (or less) to come up with something better than his first effort.

On the other side of the ball, there may be no solution to the Kawhi Leonard issue; he is that good. Butler, a strong defender, was helpless against Leonard, ditto for Tobias Harris, and James Ennis looked precisely like you would expect James Ennis to look against the superstar. Eventually, Brown tried Ben Simmons on Leonard, with slightly better results. For tonight’s game, if not Simmons, then who?

The bottom line is, Embiid has to play much better for the Sixers to have a chance, and Leonard cannot take over the game the way he did on Saturday night. If Embiid doesn’t make that score at the top of this column much closer in the next few games, it’s going to be a long off-season for the Sixers – and maybe a really short one for Brett Brown.

And finally . . . 

• The Flyers owe the family of Kate Smith an apology for the knee-jerk decision to remove her statue from outside the Wells Fargo Center 10 days ago. Rather than do their own research, the Flyers blindly followed the lead of the New York Yankees, who stopped playing her rendition of God Bless America after uncovering her recordings of two racially-insensitive songs from the 1930s. Kate Smith fought for racial equality during her long career. To paint her as a racist, 36 years after her death, is an injustice the Flyers must correct immediately.

• It is no coincidence that Howie Roseman mastered the art of drafting at exactly the same time he added Joe Douglas as vice-president of player personnel. Roseman’s trade up for left tackle Andre Dillard last week is just the latest in a long series of deft first-round moves. It’s time to give Douglas the GM title before another teams swoops in and steals one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL. The Eagles have found a winning draft formula. Now they have to protect it.

• Dave Gettleman of the New York Giants has a chance to be the worst GM in pro sports right now. Combining a rare combination of cluelessness and arrogance, he used the sixth pick in the draft on Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. By all accounts, Jones has a popgun arm and is years away, if ever, of being ready to compete in the NFL. When reminded of this, a smug Gettleman suggested he might just stick with Eli Manning for three more years. The GM must have been kidding. He can’t be that stupid. Can he?

• The Phillies lost another game last week because of a lack of bullpen depth. This time, manager Gabe Kapler tried to milk a second inning out of Hector Neris in a 3-1 loss to the Mets because his other options were dubious, at best. Free agent Craig Kimbrel is a proven closer, and he would provide the depth and experience lacking in the relief corps right now. How many games are the Phils going to lose before they realize they have no choice but to sign Kimbrel?

• Rhys Hoskins is one of the classiest, nicest players on the Phillies – or any team, for that matter – but he clearly has a snarky side that is equally appealing. His 34-second trip around the bases last week after a home run, on the night after two beanballs by Mets reliever Jacob Rhame, was an in-your-face gesture for the ages. If Rhame tries it again, though, it still might be more effective to charge the mound. I’m just saying.

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