If Jimmy Butler is the villain, then Tobias Harris has a golden opportunity to play the hero

With Joel Embiid indefinitely, the Sixers must considerably shorten their notion of weather. They can’t worry or look forward to a potential playoff return for Joel Embiid, despite their hope.

There’s no time to reflect on the past or what might have been had the Sixers found a way to keep Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in that fateful summer of 2019. Philadelphia just has to steal the one of the first two games in South Beach next week. Then they can at least check on Embiid’s status when the second-round series returns to Broad St.

The Sixers made two blockbuster trades in 2019, of course. They first brought in Butler in November 2018. A few months later, they landed Harris. It was the latter that they ended up building, in June 2019. Now Jimmy Butler is a Class A villain in Philadelphia. Harris was known (though not always affectionately) as the good guy.

But the Long Island native was arguably the Sixers’ most pleasant surprise and consistent first-round player.

“Tobias was amazing,” head coach Doc Rivers told reporters in Toronto. “In terms of numbers, you’ll be looking at Tyrese [Maxey] and Jacques [Harden] and Joel, but Tobias was perhaps the most valuable guy on this show. Guard [Pascal] Siakam is not easy and he did it all the way and he did it with vigor and just a great fight.

Praise from the head coach.

Harris stepped up his game at just the right time for the Sixers. The team’s vocal and emotional leader, its resident ironman, erupted in no time. It wasn’t smooth at first. Harris finished with less than 15 points in 10 of his first 20 games after The Beard’s team debut.

But what we’ve seen over the past few weeks is simply a “flowing” player. He doesn’t think too much. He doesn’t dribble too much. Her sweater falls off. He was a beast in transition. Its efficiency has benefited. He was a defensive force. Everything was very surprising and great.

He has a much bigger challenge ahead of him now. Harris, along with Tyrese Maxey and James Harden are going to have to struggle against Butler’s Heat without the guy who would have been the best player in the entire series (if not all of the playoffs).

“Obviously tough news to take,” Harris said in practice Saturday of Joel’s fractured orbital bone, the third of his career dating back to his Kansas. “As a group we want him to be healthy, better, and whenever he is, we’ll be ready. But at the end of the day for us, it’s the mentality of the next man and just being stuck with the game plan,” Harris said.

The next man is the ultimate sports cliche. It’s often the easiest to roll your eyes.

But at least in this city there is precedent for miracle races. Ask Nick Foles. Not that the Sixers lean on Paul Reed or even a center by committee approach to fill this gap. They will instead rely on their perimeter stars.

The Sixers have played the majority of their year with a maximum-paying Ben Simmons-sized void in their roster. It was how they came together in adversity that first caught the attention of Harden, who presumably (we should know for sure by July) saw a better adjustment for himself at long term in Philly than in Brooklyn.

Without a doubt, this current Sixers culture, the one they now rely on, represented greener pastures than Kyrie Irving’s ineligible status in Brooklyn last winter. Perhaps he signaled to her: Hey James, you can do better, those guys in red, white and blue, they’re all here.

“We just have to figure it out,” Harris continued. “This has been a resilient group all year, so nothing has changed in that regard. We’re going to prepare the same way. And we’ll be waiting for the Big Fella to get everything they need to get back to where they are. must be.

All of Ben Simmons’ experience has made this team a much more tight-knit group. And so next man means a little more coming from this group than when we usually hear this banal phrase spoken.

Take an uptempo approach

New York Knicks vs Philadelphia 76ers

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

But how do you steal one without The Process? They can barely survive eight minutes when the dude takes a quick rest, now you wanna beat the top seed in the East without freakin’ Joel Embiid?! Saturday in practice, Harris stressed that a change of tempo was key.

“Keep picking up the pace, keep executing offensively, using our defense,” Harris said. “It’s just going to be extra effort from different guys, different opportunities. But overall, we kind of know that in the last series, what worked for us was just that we kept rocking the basketball.

In six playoff games, the big number 12 averages 17.8 points. 9.5 rebounds, 3 cents, 1.2 blocks, on searing 0.53/0.47/0.83 shooting. He helped force misses, then he capitalized, hurting Toronto early in the shot clock, sometimes with a combination of dirty moves:

“We’re definitely going to be playing a bit of a different style because we’re running out of those kinds of post-ups and so on, but that just means there’s probably going to be pick-and-roll play added…so that we can still be real effective,” added the 11-year-old vet.

Each remaining team wants to play fast. But it’s hard to chase after a made basket. They will need stops. So Harris, who recently edged out Matisse Thybulle (demoted in part due to his vaccine status) for the toughest defensive assignment job, will have to force Jimmy Butler to his left, dare JB to take tough pull-ups and hold his own. guard post-ups. . Because if the Sixers need to help Harris too much, Jimmy will choose them as a passer. Harris is going to have to avoid cheap fouls in order to maximize his time on the court.

“Obviously his ability to impact the game with the basketball, without the basketball, he’s getting to the free throw line at a high pace, playing with a lot of energy,” Harris explained to about his former teammate. “Obviously I played with Jimmy, so I know his style of play as well.”

Doc Rivers, however, clarified that they could also count on Harris to stop the other Miami stars, if they are the ones with a heater.

“It really allows us to put Tobias on the top player,” Rivers said when asked about Tobi’s enhanced reliability from the attacking point. “So he’ll do that a lot on this show, whether it’s Jimmy, Kyle Lowry or Bam, Tobias will probably keep all three at some point.”

Rivers was asked in practice if it was something he saw when he coached Harris on the Clippers, a wing he could usefully deploy on another team’s superstar. Doc gave an honest answer. “No, the defense with Tobias in LA, he’s a different human being for sure.”

Like our Joe_DiProsperos noted, Rivers said the team will look to deploy a center-by-committee approach. And one of those centers might even be the 6-8, 226-pound former volunteer.

“They do a program where they put [P.J.] Tucker as five and then they do another one where they’re pretty small,” Rivers explained. “I don’t know if I want [deploy Harris at the five] this honestly, but we are ready to do whatever we have to do.

If Harris can maintain the solid level of defense he showcased in the round against Spicy P (possibly a new Philadelphia villain in his own right) the Sixers may be able to get some saves and push the tempo against Butler and the Heat. Then, relying on their wings, the combined prowess of Harris, Harden, Maxey and Danny Green, the Sixers will look to pour it down and chase the target.

They can’t afford to worry about Embiid and make predictions about a comeback that may never happen. They just need the good guy to slow down the bad guy and steal one of the first two games in a hostile environment. Then they can figure out the rest later.

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