For the fourth time in Joel Embiid’s four seasons of playing NBA basketball, which don’t include his first two out of college when didn’t suit up at all, he’s unfortunately injured. Embiid has a torn radial collateral ligament of the fourth metacarpal. In other words, a torn ligament in his hand, to which he’s getting surgery for and will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks.
At best, he misses four games, which probably isn’t happening. Maybe it could be as little as eight, but my speculation is that’s wishful thinking. For however long Embiid is out, the Sixers are missing their best player as they try to climb up the jammed Eastern Conference standings. Even more frustrating is Embiid is hurt again despite his efforts to stay healthy. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy, as does head coach.
“It’s easy for all of us to say it’s a part of sport, it’s a part of player’s life—a coach has to inherit some of those unfortunate circumstances” Brett Brown said pregame Thursday. “When it’s repetitive, I hear you.”
Brown and his team won’t establish a “woe is me” mentality. As they proved in their impressive 109-98 win over the Celtics hours after those comments, they’re capable of beating anyone in the league without their superstar. That’s why General Manager Elton Brand made the moves he did this past off-season. That’s why win-now decisions were struck in recent years.
The Sixers rallied from a 15-point first half deficit and outscored Boston 32-18 in the fourth quarter. The Celtics are a good team that was shooting the lights out before halftime. To the Sixers credit, they upped their energy in the third and fourth quarters, tightened up defensively and went to work. Josh Richardson scored 29, Ben Simmons 19, Al Horford 17 and Tobias Harris 16. Norvel Pelle, who Brand needs to make a decision on regarding his two-way contract soon, provided instant spark off the bench with elite rim protection. It was so good, he received a standing ovation from the Wells Fargo Faithful.
Embiid’s injury and the length he’s out is unfortunate because his skills take them to another level when everything is clicking. But even without Embiid, there’s no excuse for this team to finish worse than second in the East. When push comes to shove, they proved they’re better than Indiana, Toronto, Boston and Miami when they want to show up.
“We have been through a lot,” Brown said. “Things like this, you just move on. I don’t see things like (woe is me), and I would’ve not been here very long had I have seen the things that we’ve all lived through like that.”
Here’s what needs to happen over the coming weeks without Embiid.
When one superstar is down, the complete spotlight shifts to the other one. Simmons has grown as a leader and this a chance for that to stand out. He needs to take more shots, play down hill and continue his elite defense, whether against perimeter players or as the “five,” which Brown had him at a little bit on Thursday.
Simmons was nine-of-15 from the floor with nine rebounds.
“We’re excited to have this opportunity to have a different game style,” Simmons said. “Obviously, we’re going to miss Joel for however long it is. He’s a huge part of this team, but tonight was a good start.”
Brand’s acquisition of Horford puzzled some because of fit. And in fairness, it’s been a little bit of a struggle for Horford and Embiid to quickly develop chemistry when they play together. With Embiid’s unfortunate injury, the Horford signing makes sense regardless of fit.
He’ll get to play more center with Embiid sidelined, and unlike in past seasons when less than reliable bigs would fill-in, Horford is a former All-Star.
“We’re very lucky to have him, first, and we’re really lucky to have him when things like this to Joel happen,” Brown said.
It’s Embiid’s show when he and Horford are on the floor at the same time. Now, Horford is back at center stage as he has been in his productive career. His point total against Boston was a good start. He had two blocks and eight rebounds, which was also encouraging. There will be a different style of defense with Horford at the “five.”
“I’m putting a blowtorch, a bullet, many bullets to what we used to do (defensively),” Brown said pregame. “It doesn’t fit.”
Their defense tightened up as Thursday night’s game progressed.
“We don’t have that rim protector like Joel is,” Hoford said. “So, we have to get creative, like we did tonight, and found a way.”
It’s time for Horford to really show why the Sixers gave him that multi-year contract.
When the Sixers sent Jimmy Butler to the Heat for Richardson in a sign-and-trade, I’m not sure how much the city knew what kind of player the 76ers were getting. Everyone was aware Richardson could defense, but he’s shown flashes of being a big-time scorer in a handful of games this season, one of them on Thursday when he had a game-high in points.
Richardson and Harris will need to up their aggressiveness and shot total going forward. Embiid’s offensive production will need to be made up somehow, someway. Richardson and Harris are the team’s best shot creators in half-court settings, and fortunately for them, Embiid’s absence could mean a quicker flowing offense, whether Brown is calling plays or not.