PHILADELPHIA — The notion is popular and substantial, a reasonable analysis of the 76ers, their chances of winning games and their fate.
While generally accurate, Joel Embiid doesn’t always need to lead the Sixers in every statistical category to thrive. Some nights, their MVP candidate can make the difference with his picks as much as his points, with his size as much as his rebounds, with his effort, his length and his way of disrupting a defense.
Saturday, when the Sixers picked up a 131-111 victory over the Toronto Raptors, was one of those nights.
“Joel created a lot of points,” Doc Rivers said. “His presence creates scores.”
In as thorough a performance as they’ve had all season, given the circumstances, Embiid was the Sixers’ fourth-leading scorer, shooting 5-for-15 from the floor, and he was outscored, 24-19, by center. Raptors Pascal Siakam. .
As if that mattered.
“Like I said,” Embiid said, “we’re going to need everyone.”
After every syllable of the game plan, which emphasized rebounding and ball protection to dampen Toronto’s dangerous running game, the Sixers picked up 38 points from Tyrese Maxey, 26 from Tobias Harris and 22 from James Harden. .
Such was the effect of Embiid’s selfless play when the Raptors, as expected, ran towards him with multiple defenders whenever he had the ball. With his 15 rebounds, he had four assists and was guilty of forcing only a handful of shots.
“It really starts with me not being frustrated,” Embiid said. “I kind of invited the double and triple teams that they were sending me all night, to make the right plays and do whatever it takes for us to win.”
Ultimately, the theory that the Sixers will need Embiid’s group score to go deeper in the tournament will prove to be correct. But games within games will also be important. Embiid’s composure in Game 1 of what could be a long streak showed a lot about the Sixers’ potential.
“I think it’s about me making the right plays over and over and over again,” he said. “Tonight was pretty good. And I was happy that it was probably the first time I didn’t have any turnovers against Toronto. I have to do that a lot more.
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Having only arrived in February and occasionally taking the day of load management, Harden had played just 21 games for the Sixers before Saturday.
It’s one of the reasons Rivers was grateful to have a bye week between the regular season and the playoffs.
“We had to integrate it on the fly,” said the coach. “So in a way we had our training camp during the week. We do not recreate the wheel. But a guy of that importance changes a lot of different things for a lot of different guys. So I thought it was a very productive week.
It worked. Showing a combination of aggression and selflessness that made him a Hall of Fame-ready point guard, Harden shot 4-for-7 from deep while skillfully keeping Maxey on pace.
“It was a good game for us, but we have to keep improving,” Harden said. “I think about every thing that our coaches preached about every practice last week, we have to stay locked in on those things.”
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Showing their ability to adapt to the circumstances, the crowd of 20,610 gave the “MVP” serenade Embiid an endgame rest, opting instead for consistent chants of “Maxey, Maxey, Maxey.”
“Honestly, I appreciate it,” Maxey said. “But the only thing I will remember from that game is that we won. That’s all that matters.”
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Game 2 is Monday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.