Time and space are two of the most precious things in the NBA. It seemed as if it was the end of the world four years ago. Philadelphia 76ersThey had an inordinate amount of each as they faced off against the Miami HeatSuperstar center will be hosting a playoff series in the first round with a setup that is very similar to Monday night's Game 1, Eastern Conference Semifinals. Joel EmbiidA broken orbital bone left him out and he hoped his teammates would prolong the series so that he could return to action with a custom-made mask.
Ben SimmonsEmbiid's running mate was in 2018 when it felt like they had a decade to figure out how to pay “The Process”, former Sixers general manger Sam Hinkie's radical vision of team construction.
The Heat were in a similar situation. Short on time and space, they tried to squeeze one final playoff run with Dwyane, an ageing player, before eventually rebuilding around a rookie named Bam Adebayo.
It's been four years since then.
Miami's 106-92 winThe Heat's win against Philadelphia Monday at FTX Arena was more than a sign of how far they have come since their reboot. It also revealed how little time and space the Sixers have left to find a way to be a contender for the championship.
Simmons is part of the Brooklyn NetsHe is still dealing with the effects of his time in the heat lamp of expectations that came with being one of the Sixers of Process-era.
He was replaced by the 2018 MVP James HardenEmbiid was basically suffocated on Monday night by a lack space trying to pick up the slack. He and his teammates missed more that 82% of the 3 point shots (28 out 34) against the Heat.
There will be much discussion about Harden's ineffectiveness in Monday's game. He finished with 16 points from 5-of-13 shooting, continuing his streak of being held to under 25 points in 11 consecutive playoff games. This streak is his longest since he was on the bench for the playoffs. Oklahoma City Thunderto begin his career.
Harden, 32, has struggled to pass defenders during his time at Philadelphia. This has raised questions about the league. Is his injury to the hamstring still an issue? He can he get his burst to normal in time to justify a maximum contract extension of $223 million this year?
Once Embiid was indefinitely lost after sustaining a concussion in Game 6 of Philadelphia’s first-round series victory over the Philadelphia. Toronto RaptorsThe time pressure on Harden's questions soared.
Monday night's disappointing showing was a reflection on the state of the Sixers without Embiid, as well as Harden's current capabilities. Harden literally didn't have enough space to operate.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, 12 of Harden's 13 field goal attempts were contested. He was also twice teamed nine more times.
According to Second Spectrum, Harden's average distance from a defender during Monday's shot attempts was 3.7 feet. This is the third-smallest separation in a game this season for Harden and the second-smallest in a playoff match for Harden in the past two years.
If you have been following Harden's career, you will know why it is such a problem. He needs space to move around. Even if he doesn't have the same burst, he can still create some, but the defense must respect his teammates' shooting.
When Harden was asked about his future goals, he replied that he thinks he can be more aggressive. They did a good job of not showing their bodies or crowding the ball, but just using elbows and boxes.
“But I believe the shot-making opens up the floor to our entire team,”
Harden's objective assessment was as important and as important as his order of presenting the diagnosis.
He first blamed himself. Then he gave credit the Heat defense. Finally, he spoke the part that really matters, without putting any of his teammates under the bus.
This is the Sixers' bright side. Harden must show leadership and accountability in order to be able to get back into the series.
“It is one game, but things could turn fast,” Harden stated, as he tried to make a positive statement to the young locker room Embiid has been placed in.
There are some positive signs in Embiid could return at some point in this seriesIt's not surprising, but it is mostly because he has been so determined this season to endure injuries and pain.
Sources told ESPN that Embiid was still suffering from concussion symptoms Monday at home in Philadelphia. He will need to go through the NBA's concussion protocol before he can even consider playing again. On Wednesday, his appointment in Miami, Embiid will get a report on a right orbital fracture.
Sources say that Embiid could be playing in Philadelphia's Game 3 or 4, if all goes well. He will wear a protective mask. In 2018, Embiid was back in Game 3 of a five-game series victory over the Heat. He was dubbed the Phantom of the Process.
However, even though the circumstances look similar this year the feelings are quite different.
Philadelphia seemed to have everything in its grasp back then. Both of their superstars were young, and they were still learning and growing together.
Now that Embiid has reached his peak, there is a sense Embiid feels the need to act quickly. Harden is trying hard to keep what little he has left. Because of all the things that have happened, there is a new weight.
It is possible to still make it happen. There's still time to make. However, there is less of it right now.