Feels like an ETERNITY since we last saw Philadelphia 76ers basketball.

That’s the lede.

That’s the entire lede.

Some things to focus on tonight:

Defensive matchups

JJ Redick guarding Jayson Tatum?

Brett Brown didn’t have a ton to say when asked about that matchup after game one, but they need to stay away from it tonight. Same thing when Marco Belinelli is in the game.

This is how I would approach it:

  • Ben Simmons —> Terry Rozier
  • JJ Redick —> Marcus Smart
  • Robert Covington —> Jayson Tatum
  • Dario Saric —> Al Horford
  • Joel Embiid —> Aron Baynes

Obviously Jaylen Brown complicates things when he comes back to the lineup. He was listed as doubtful in the last injury report and we got this update Thursday morning:

If Marcus Smart starts again, you can live with Redick guarding a 6’4″, 36% career shooter.

That leaves you with Simmons and Covington to guard Tatum and Rozier. I think Ben’s defense is underrated and usually eclipsed by what he does on the offensive end of the floor. Why was he on Smart the other night? I’m not sure, though you did see a few instances where he was able to leave his man to help teammates. It’s less risky to come off Smart than Rozier on the perimeter, right? But I think it’s just easier to put Simmons and Covington on the scorers and make Boston try to force the switches instead of giving them a mismatch right off the bat.

If Brown is in the game, I don’t know. I think you just decide what you’re willing to live with, and if that’s Redick’s man scoring 20+ points, so be it. The Celtics, for example, seem fine with Embiid getting 35 points in the paint if they limit Philly’s three point shooting. You didn’t see them throw a ton of double teams at Joel in game one, and when they did, he looked pretty good recognizing the threat and kicking the ball back out.

Whatever Brett Brown decides to do in the back court, that leaves you with Embiid and Dario Saric vs. Aron Baynes and Al Horford in the front court. Embiid is the better defender. Do you keep him on Baynes and let Dario deal with Horford? Embiid is more capable than most big men when drawn from the paint, but you want him protecting the rim down low instead of scrambling around 18 feet out.

You want to avoid this tonight:

You don’t want Belinelli switched on to Horford, falling down, and then trying to recover while Saric rotates over to help. There was a similar play in the second quarter when the Sixers fronted a low post mismatch, Horford got away with a shirt pull, and spun Belinelli for an easy dunk.

Embiid spoke about these concepts after game one:

“There’s a lot of stuff we game planned that we didn’t execute, especially with (Al Horford) popping and him being wide open. That can’t happen, he’s a pretty good shooter so we got to respect that. There’s a lot of adjustments we got to make, just correct them and we’re going to be fine.

“We just gotta honor the call. My objective is basically to not let anyone get to the rim. But when you play defense on guys like Al Horford and Marcus Morris that are able to stretch you off so much, you just got to respect it and make adjustments. If I have to switch on a guard, I mean I feel like I’m pretty good defensively. I’m going to do my best to stop them. In those situations, I thought we didn’t execute well.”

That’s another thing to think about here, the idea that maybe it wasn’t even so much the game plan, but the execution. Did Brett Brown see enough that he makes significant alterations to the defensive assignments, or does he just say, “you know, I’m fine with the approach, we just need to do a better job.“?

Ersan Ilyasova added his defensive thoughts on the Sixers’ “BroadCast” pod:

“I mean, the way they played all season long, they obviously execute well offensively. Everybody knows where they’re supposed to be and that’s why they’re hard to defend sometimes. They have capable three point shooters on the perimeter, that’s it’s important for us to be more efficient and more on-point. The pick and roll defense, you have to be sharp. We tried to switch and they tried to punish those mismatches, but we’ve had a couple of days now to try to figure out some things.”

Patching up the defense is priority #1 tonight.

Markelle Fultz

I would play him.

Why not? You’ve got a priceless opportunity to get your rookie guard valuable playoff experience, so I think you make him the backup ball handler and see what he’s got. You already know what you have in T.J. McConnell.

Here’s the thing:

The Sixers aren’t gonna win the title. This year was basically a developmental bridge to next year. The entire point was to throw Simmons/Embiid/Fultz into the fire and get them as much experience as possible. Two of the three have already overachieved. You try to answer as many questions as possible and head into the offseason with a clear conscience and the cap room to pursue a superstar free agent, then take your first real shot at a trophy in 2019. Absorbing this kind of playoff wisdom is a lot more than anybody really expected back in the summer.

I know that might not sit well with the crowd of people who adhere to Sam Hinkie’s idea that progress doesn’t necessarily have to be linear. I’m one of those people. I think Hinkie is correct when he says that you can go from point A to point C instead of having to go A –> B –> C. But I just don’t think the Sixers are beating the Warriors or Rockets in the finals, if they get there, and I think a priority should be getting Fultz as many critical minutes as possible.

Plus, it’s not like those ideas have to be mutually exclusive. It’s not like you’re picking between giving Fultz playoff minutes OR winning games. If Simmons’ point guard backup is only going to play 7-8 minutes a night, then really how big of a deal is it?

Here’s Brett on Markelle:

Auxiliary wins

I talk about this all the time, the idea that the Sixers usually find a way to win sidebar battles.

They missed open shots on Monday night but they did these things well:

  • Rebounding: 11 on the offensive glass and 18 second chance points. They did a nice job on the glass the other night (and missing a bunch of shots obviously gives you more OREB opportunities).
  • Turnovers: Only 12, which is down from their playoff and regular season averages.
  • Steals: They had 7, if you can believe it.
  • Fouls: 21 for Boston, which put the Sixers on the line a bunch. They only hit 26 of those 35 shots though, for a 74.3 mark. If they can keep feeding Embiid down low, he will continue to get to the line. Boston came into this series as one of the top-four playoff teams in limiting fouls (right around 19), so influencing this stat helps in a big way.

You see some areas that stand out. They did fine on the boards and Ben Simmons’ seven turnovers were an outlier on an otherwise pretty good ball handling night. They added some possessions with those steals and found their way to the free throw line, they just didn’t hit above their season average. Boston, on the other hand, made 18 of 19 from the stripe, which I think made a big difference in keeping the Sixers out of reach.

Falling back to Earth?

Regardless of how the Sixers defend tonight, do we expect Horford, Tatum, and Rozier to shoot the lights out again?

Here’s how they finished in game one:

  • Horford: 10-12 (83.3%), 2-3 from three (66.6%), 4-4 FT, 26 points
  • Rozier: 11-18 (61.1%), 7-9 from three (77.8%), 0-0 FT, 29 points
  • Tatum: 8-16 (50%), 1-5 from three (20%), 11-12 FT, 28 points

Combined, those three guys were 29-46 overall (63%), 10-17 from three (58.8%), and 15-16 from the foul line (93.7%).

I’d be floored if they can put up anything close to that going forward.

Looking through the Milwaukee series, Horford’s best shooting night was a 13-17 effort in game seven (76.5%). Rozier averaged 17.6 points on 41.5% shooting and Tatum put up 15.4 PPG on 40.2% shooting. Their game one performances against the Sixers matched or eclipsed their best offensive games against Milwaukee.

There’s no way they sustain that success, not through a 5-7 game series, and not against a Sixers team that should look more like themselves tonight.