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May 05, 2023

Eytan Shander: Philly sports fans have had quite the week

Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

The Philadelphia Phillies saw the highly anticipated return of Bryce Harper – albeit on the road – and Sixers fans saw the same with Joel Embiid in Boston. Both had to play and both are key catalysts in their respective team’s success. The returns themselves hardly lived up to expectations, but there’s still time, right?

The sails of the Philadelphia sports fans can fly high above the city, fueled by the winds of success, and in a matter of moments fall limp to the ground. We saw Harper return amidst the Phillies reality check out west against the Dodgers. We saw Embiid struggle to put together a complete game as his team was blown out of the building. 

The absence isn’t strictly related to a physical presence, as we all saw a return to dominant form by James Harden – all hoping that would not be as short-lived as a single game. Not seeing anything remotely close to that in Game 2 added to our anxiety of seeing a fatigued, or worse, hobbled Embiid. Despite getting their heart and soul back, and winning a game on the road, the Sixers don’t feel like they are in control of this series. Maybe a Friday night home blowout of the Celtics changes this, but coming into it, it feels like they may have wasted the symbolic return of Embiid, at the very least. 

Harden is going to need one of those games again, at some point in the playoffs, probably in this series. Embiid is going to hit the ground again, probably in this series. The feeling of victory after Game 1 turned into justification and excuse after Game 2. A loss is a loss and the team got Embiid back, at least that was the thinking. 

That’s a loser mentality, not the same we saw from the Warriors or Celtics after they bounced back from ugly Game 1 losses. Those teams adjusted after losses where the Sixers chose to not do anything after a win. The pressure should be 100 percent on Boston Friday night, but it feels like both teams have an equal amount of pressure, not quite the home court advantage. At least not for the series.

The Bucks just fired their head coach – rightfully so – after winning an NBA Championship in 2021. If that isn’t a message in all bold to Doc Rivers, I don’t know what could be. Embiid is carrying hardware into this series and can’t afford to be the next Jokic, not after all he did to lobby for the MVP – which he also rightfully deserves. The body language seen by plenty of NBA people, including the morning show on Sirius/XM NBA Radio, from Harden and his teammates on the bench insinuates he’s all but gone to Houston. This is basically it for this version of Embiid’s Sixers. 

The pressure on the Phillies is a little different, partly because of where they are in the season, but also because of greater circumstances surrounding injuries. The issues plaguing this team were not related to or simply a result of Harper’s absence. His play over the Dodgers series is a reminder of how deep some of these holes may go with the Phillies, and maybe a sobering reminder to us that this Phillies team just doesn’t have the same magic this time around. 

There’s truly no deep interpretation of us this time around, our position as fans be it emotional or being physical present at games. This was just a snapshot of our lives. The past 36-48 hours have been a perfect encapsulation of who we are as people and fans. 

This is beautiful madness. The Sixers went from winning the series to losing in 5, the Phillies went from "HARPER IS BACK" to well… maybe there are much bigger issues. Harden went from washed to HOF to washed in a span of two games. I’m truly amazed that people still have time to tweet about Nikola Jokic!

Maybe if the Sixers didn’t have a recent history of failure in the second round that coincides with Embiid being hurt, and maybe if the Phillies didn’t get to the World Series in such ridiculous yet dramatic fashion, and maybe if Harden had some signs of life in Game 2… Maybe things would feel different. But they kind of don’t, and that’s looking at recent history with current facts in evidence as opposed to reverting back to any Negadelphian mentality. 

What did you expect to happen with such drastic drop-offs? The Phillies were going to magically reel off 20 straight wins because Harper is back in the lineup? What about the bullpen, starting pitching, generating offense lost by a Hoskins – and possible replacements? 

But they have promise, so do the Sixers. It’s the exact reason why we care so much. Think of the Eagles. People still go crazy if they don’t get the right 6th round pick or sign a WR from Atlanta whose name they can’t pronounce. We aren’t angry, we aren’t happy, we aren’t high or low. We are the most fluid fanbase in the entire country and nothing – trust me, I’ve tried on multiple platforms – will change it. 

Most fan bases have a pulse, they have a loyal group of folks who show up every game and buy jerseys and eat all the food. We go about things a little differently when it comes to day-to-day reaction. The world isn’t falling upon us, nor are these top two teams guaranteed any hardware. The journey seems to be lost a lot in life, but rarely is that lost on us as fans.

Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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