Philadelphia 76ers Lose Joel Embiid To Knee Soreness, Fall To Wizards In Game 4 Of Playoff Series
When Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid walked off the court with 36.5 seconds remaining in the first quarter of Monday night’s playoff game against the Washington Wizards, it seemed like a routine late-quarter substitution. He wasn’t limping too badly or showing any outward signs of pain. But he then headed towards the locker room, a sign that something was wrong.
Embiid never returned and was ruled out with right knee soreness, a major reason the Wizards ended up winning, 122-114, to keep their season alive. The 76ers still lead the first round series, three games to one, and have history on their side: no NBA team has lost a postseason series after winning the first three games.
And yet, Philadelphia is a much different team without the 7-foot Embiid, who is one of three finalists for the league’s Most Valuable Player award and among the best two-way players in the league. The 76ers did not reveal any further details on Embiid’s injury, including whether he’ll play in Wednesday’s Game 5. But even the thought of Embiid missing more games put a damper on a postseason that until Monday had gone about as well as the 76ers could have hoped.
“Once (Embiid) came out, I don’t think we were moving the ball as well,” said 76ers guard Ben Simmons, who played just 25 minutes after dealing with foul trouble all night. “We weren’t playing team ball for a minute and also not getting stops, which is a huge part of our offense. We weren’t able to push the ball, which hurt us a little bit. Overall, there were spurts where we had good moments, but we didn’t get enough easy looks.”
Still, even with Embiid on the bench, the 76ers had a chance to win near the end in a game that had numerous runs. The 76ers led, 61-60, at halftime, but they struggled to start the second half and trailed, 92-80, after three quarters. They then staged a comeback thanks to their bench, as the reserves scored Philadelphia’s first 22 points in the fourth quarter, punctuated by rookie guard Tyrese Maxey’s 3-pointer that cut the 76ers’ deficit to 103-102 midway through the quarter.
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Late in the game, though, the 76ers were undone in large part due to Simmons’ poor free throw shooting. With the game tied, 108-108, and less than three minutes remaining, Wizards coach Scott Brooks implemented a plan where Washington intentionally fouled Simmons, who had entered the game 0 for 9 on free throws in the series’ first three games after shooting 61.3% during the regular season.
The Wizards fouled Simmons on four consecutive possessions. Each time, Simmons made one of the two free throw attempts, which wasn’t good enough as the Wizards countered with some clutch shots, including a dunk and 3-pointer from Rui Hachimura, the latter putting the Wizards up, 118-112, with 45.8 seconds left.
Afterward, Simmons was asked about the Wizards’ strategy of sending him to the line.
“I’m not upset,” said Simmons, who had 13 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists. “It’s basketball.”
He added: “I’m not really worried about people fouling me or whatever it is. I’ve just got to get up there and knock ‘em down.”
Doc Rivers, the 76ers’ first-year head coach, stuck up for Simmons. He said he never thought about taking Simmons out of the game as the Wizards began fouling, citing Simmons’ role as the team’s point guard and best defensive player.
“I didn’t think he was scared of the moment,” Rivers said. “He just didn’t make ‘em. With Ben, we’re going to keep him on the floor. Unless you guys want us to bench him the whole game, if anybody wants us to do that, just let me know and then I’ll know you don’t know basketball.”
While the Simmons’ free throw story line will continue throughout the playoffs, so will the status of Embiid. Embiid seemingly hurt himself with 4:43 remaining in the first quarter when he had his shot blocked and fell hard on his back. Embiid grabbed his right hip and grimaced, but he did immediately return to the court, although he left a few minutes later with what the team referred to as soreness in his right knee.
For now, it’s still too early to speculate how long Embiid will be out. Still, the 76ers do have experience playing without their superstar, albeit with less than ideal results. During the regular season, they went just 10-11 in the 21 games that Embiid didn’t play. But they did go 7-3 in a 10-game stretch that Embiid missed from March 14 to April after sustaining a bone bruise on his left knee. Embiid had also undergone surgery on the meniscus in his left knee in March 2017.
“We’re going to need him to be the last team standing, to win (the NBA title),” said 76ers forward Danny Green, who had 11 points and 3 rebounds in 31 minutes on Monday night. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t win this series or the next game without him or other games without him. We’ve had practices, we’ve had games, we’ve had scenarios where we’ve had him gone for a month.”
He added: “We’ve got to get back to ourselves, back to our identity and back to that phase where we didn’t have him and that mindset that we had during that time where we didn’t have him It starts on the defensive end of the floor. We know we’re not going to get as many points without him, but we scored 114 tonight, which I thought was enough (to win).”