UPDATE: Sixers announced Wednesday that Joel Embiid has a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. He will not play in Game 5 and is day-to-day going forward.
Things felt great for the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, up 3-0 over the Wizards in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Until seven minutes into Game 4, as Sixers fans were forced to confront a familiar fear: playing without Joel Embiid.
The Sixers center is listed as doubtful with right knee soreness of Wednesday’s Game 5 at home. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Embiid had an MRI on his right knee and will undergo further evaluations on Wednesday.
The Wizards won the must-win Game 4 122-114 to force a Game 5 in Philly on Wednesday.
How it happened
Embiid hit the deck hard in the first quarter as he was met at the rim by Wizards Robin Lopez. The play was clean, but Embiid fell hard with an instant look of pain across his face.
He played the rest of the quarter in obvious discomfort, and left for the locker room in the final seconds of the opening quarter.
From there, the Sixers gave up the lead and the ability to sweep a playoff series for the first time in 36 years.
In Game 4, Embiid managed to score eight points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal all in one quarter of work.
How do the Sixers do without Embiid?
This is not the first time the Sixers will play without their center this season. Embiid missed ten-straight games with a left knee bone bruise, an injury he suffered on March 12 in Washington. During that stretch, Philly managed a 7-3 record.
But the prospect of playing without the MVP finalist is not great. The Sixers are 10-11 without Embiid in 2021. With him on the court, the 76ers are 39-12.
The stats other than wins and losses (things like points per game, rebounds, assists, blocks per game) are virtually the same with or without Embiid on the court, according to StatMuse. For example, the Sixers with Embiid average 115.4 points per game, without Embiid average 109.3 ppg. With Embiid the Sixers pull down 45.0 rebounds per game, without Embiid it’s 45.2 rpg.
That being said, the Sixers were 13.0 points better per 100 possessions with Embiid than without him, per Cleaning the Glass.
The proof isn’t always in the pudding, or the stat lines. But the conclusion is clear, the Sixers are significantly better with Embiid on the floor and that’s no secret in the locker room.
“I don’t know the details so I can’t really speak on that, but obviously we need Jo to win,” Ben Simmons said. “He’s a big part of this team. If he’s not there next game, we’ve got to close it out. We’ve got what we need. Hopefully he is back.”
Danny Green echoed Simmons’ sentiments.
“We’re going to need him to be the last team standing, to win,” Green said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t win this series or the next game without him — or other games without him.”
Can the Sixers close out the series with Embiid on the bench?
With Embiid in the locker room, Doc Rivers turned to Dwight Howard, Mike Scott and Simmons at center.
Howard committed four fouls in 13:39 minutes of play, with just one point scored and four boards.
Scott played 16:37, but missed all four of his field-goal attempts. He averaged 16.7 minutes per game this regular season, but only averaged 4.2 points per game. Scott was the second half starter at center.
“We’ve had scenarios where we’ve had him gone for a month,” Green said. “Obviously he’s a big part of what we do. He averages 30 and 10. That’s a lot of points and rebounds missing, and a paint protector, shot blocker for us — and a guy that draws double teams to give us open shots.”
It’s clear the Sixers don’t have a clear favorite at center if Embiid is on the bench.
“We’ve been in scenarios where we haven’t had him,” Green said. “We’ve got to get back to ourselves, back to our identity and back to that mindset during that time that we didn’t have him — and doing little things. It starts on the defensive end of the floor. … We’ve got to keep teams under 110. It starts with our defensive mindset.”
Embiid’s NBA 2021 Playoff Stats
Making matters more painful for Philly fans, Embiid was great in the first three games of the 2021 NBA Playoffs against Washington.
He averaged 29.3 points and shot 67.4 percent from the floor. In Game 3, Embiid scored a career-high 36 points on 14-for-18 shooting, making 3 of 4 three point attempts in 28 minutes.
“A few games ago I mentioned that it feels like the game has slown down,” Embiid said after Game 3. “I’m not forcing anything, I’m letting it come to me.”
Embiid’s 36 points was also the most by a Sixer in a road playoff game since 2003.
It appears the Sixers will be without a clear center in Game 5 as Embiid is listed as doubtful with right knee soreness. Game 5 is in Philadelphia on Wednesday, tipoff is at 7 p.m.