Embiid doubtful for Game 1 but ‘improving daily’; Harden has an aggressive mindset

Embiid doubtful for Game 1 but 'improving daily';  Harden has an aggressive mindset

As head coach Doc Rivers had predicted, the Sixers listed Joel Embiid as doubtful Sunday ahead of their second-round playoff series opener against the Celtics.

Boston’s Danilo Gallinari (left knee ACL repair) was the only other player on the injury report ahead of Sixers-Celtics Game 1 at TD Garden.

On a positive note for the Sixers, Embiid took Springer during Sunday’s post-practice window, which opened to reporters for the first time this week. James Harden pass-fed the Sixers’ six-time all-star big man, who sprained his right knee in the team’s Game 3 win over the Nets last Thursday.

“He did a little bit more,” Rivers said. “Little. He wasn’t running or anything – he was just shooting and stuff. So he’s better, yeah. He’s making progress.”

When asked about the Sixers’ optimism about Embiid, Rivers offered a philosophical response.

“There’s been optimism all along, but there’s also realism,” he said, laughing. “You have to be realistic. And I just don’t know. Still doubtful, but improving every day. That’s good for us.”

Harden caught a quarterback-style long-range pass from Embiid before sitting down to speak to reporters.

He did not address the issue of his own health.

“I’m fine,” Harden said of the left Achilles tendon pain that caused him to miss four games in late March. “That’s not even a problem.”

This season’s NBA assists title winner spoke as he expected going into Game 1 without Embiid.

“…For me, this whole year has been the playmaker role of James Harden — the sacrifice of not really scoring and all that good stuff,” Harden said. “And now it’s like, ‘Okay, I need to turn on the switch and be a little bit more aggressive’ — not just to hit the basketball, but to get in the paint and get some really good shots for our team. That will help us.

“All in all, it’s about going out and reading the basketball game and playing on my basketball instincts. Just go out there and mature.”

Though the Sixers finished 2-0 in Boston in the regular season, Harden produced well, averaging 61 points in 17-for-28 shooting, 18 assists and four turnovers.

As for Tyrese Maxey’s troubles against the Celtics, which included a 3-for-14 game on Feb. 8, Harden didn’t sound concerned.

“Just have that confidence,” he said. “I think we all have to go in with an incredible amount of confidence to go out and win Game 1. Not just Tyrese, I think our entire team has to have that pride to go in there and have that confidence that we’re going to win Game 1.

“I’m confident that Tyrese has put in the work. He works extremely hard so I’m confident that whether it’s his shot or it’s going to the edge, they’re going to pull it off.”

After Embiid finished setting up his jumpers, he served up Harden for catch-and-shoot three-pointers.

When that happens next time in a game remains uncertain.

“We communicate a lot, especially in the last few days, about how he’s feeling and things like that,” Harden said. “I think today was the first time he was filming. I mean it’s up to Joel. It’s up to him when his body feels like it’s ready to come back — or, if his body doesn’t feel 100 percent, he (might) still be like, “I’m still going to go out there and hoop and try.” you find out.’ That’s all on him. I don’t think anyone in the world can have that mindset except Joel Embiid.

“Obviously we know the value he brings to our team and what he has accomplished throughout the year. So if he’s ready to come back and hop – if he feels like he’s ready – we’re obviously waiting for him. But until then, we have to go out there and try to win a basketball game, one game at a time. That is our way of thinking as a team.”

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