The Sixers were blown out in a pivotal Game 5 against Toronto, losing 125-89, and things are looking grim. Tuesday night’s game, more than ever, hammered home the point that when Joel Embiid is on, the Sixers are as good as any team in the league. When he’s not, as was the case in Game 5 with only 13 points, they simply can’t hang with the best of the best. This will come as an unpleasant revelation to all the decision-makers in Philadelphia who signed off on the multiple swing-for-the-fences acquisitions they made over the course of the year.
It isn’t exactly news that a team’s success is heavily dependent on their star player. But the whole point of the Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler trades was to take the load off Embiid when the going got tough. Last year’s playoffs exhibited the team’s lack of options when playoff defense hits; Ben Simmons isn’t nearly the impact player he is during the regular season, while Embiid is slowly worn down by the physicality of this time of year. So they brought in Harris and Butler, two guys who can get their own looks and create offense when Embiid was off the floor or having a tough game.
Against the Raptors, it simply hasn’t happened. Harris has been largely disappointing, but at the very least provides a level of spacing that few others could provide in the recent past in Philly. Outside of Game 1, Butler has provided pretty much exactly what they thought he would when they traded Robert Covington and Dario Saric for his services. Despite that, it’s clear that if Embiid isn’t playing well, the Sixers are toast.
Hindered by an illness and a nagging knee injury, Embiid hasn’t been able to elevate his play in a time of great need. At this point, it doesn’t appear that anyone else has the extra gear to make up for his relatively subpar play. Game 2 was the platonic ideal of what the Sixers were searching for: Embiid scored only 12 points, but 30 from Butler and a solid game from the rest of the supporting cast resulted in a Philly victory. The rest of the games, though, present a grimmer truth. Outside of a Game 3 win where Embiid dropped 33 points, they’ve been blown out of the water.
At full strength, Embiid is as good as advertised with room to be even better. But every great player not named LeBron James needs help from his teammates every now and again. Philly tried to get that help, and it wasn’t enough this year. The question now is if Embiid’s health will allow him to drive his team to victory in their time of greatest need.