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    Joel Embiid's knee injury overshadows Sixers loss to Warriors

    Kyle Neubeck Avatar
    January 31, 2024
    Joel Embiid laying on the floor next to Draymond Green.

    Joel Embiid hobbled through three-and-a-half quarters before exiting with a knee injury, with the Sixers losing 119-107 to the Warriors in an otherwise unremarkable game.

    Here’s what I saw.

    The Good

    — The Warriors shot nearly 65 percent from the field in the first quarter, and Joel Embiid shot 1/7 from the field in 10 minutes. Philadelphia somehow emerged from the quarter up by five points. That is borderline impossible, but it speaks to how handily the Sixers won the possession battle.

    Philadelphia had eight (eight!) offensive rebounds in the opening period alone, absolutely pounding Golden State on the glass to make up for their torrent of bricks. It was a collective effort on the glass, with Tobias Harris, Kelly Oubre, and Patrick Beverley all mixing it up early.

    Harris probably deserves a piece of credit all by himself, especially when you consider how he looked in Portland on Monday after his return from illness. He led the charge on the glass early, throwing his weight around against a team ill-equipped to deal with him and keep a big body on Joel Embiid. That helped level the playing field at a time when the Sixers couldn’t hit water from a boat beyond the arc.

    The other thing keeping them in this game early was the turnover battle, with Philadelphia doing an excellent job of protecting the ball while turning Golden State over. Jaden Springer played early minutes with a ton of regular players still out injured, and he was a wrecking ball on defense, blowing up several Warriors plays and guarding up multiple positions against true wings and forwards.

    Although Springer’s decision-making left something to be desired on offense, he would eventually bulldoze his way into an effective game, hitting a corner three early in the fourth before a tough and-one layup brought the Sixers to within striking distance of the Warriors.

    — Furkan Korkmaz got a little hot from three, which is the first time I can remember that happening in a while. Good for Furky, who gets treated like a meme but could probably benefit from a more consistent role on a less pressure-packed team.

    The Bad

    — Here is the worst part of the last four games of basketball for yours truly: there’s hardly anything meaningful to analyze. A bunch of deep bench role players struggling to make threes? Wow, how unexpected. Young guys are committing silly fouls by playing too aggressively on defense? You don’t say. Their defensive rotations are a bit busted? Seems pretty understandable for a group of guys that rarely plays together.

    They’re going to have to steal some games either without Embiid or with this compromised version of Embiid, who is far from the impact player we know him to be. If they continue to battle like they did on Tuesday night, they’re going to find their way to some wins. And presumably, they’ll get Tyrese Maxey back soon, which will help.

    So no real smoke for anybody in the rotation tonight…

    — ….*Stephen A. Smith voice* except for when it comes to Kelly Oubre! What is this guy even doing half of the time?

    (I’m mostly kidding, whatever, Oubre is overextended right now.)

    The Ugly

    — Joel Embiid returning to the lineup looked like a piece of good news for a team in need of some. That was, until, the word came in that he was laboring a bit in warmups and was still going to give it a go. It was worth seeing if that held up in a game vs. a warmup, but now that we’ve seen his condition, I can’t believe he was allowed to take the floor at all.

    You could see the “want to” was there for Embiid on several occasions, with the big man offering timely help at the rim and at least trying to contest shots around the basket on defense. But there was next to no lift for Embiid when he went to defend his basket, neutralizing his value as a rim protector. On one noteworthy play, Embiid loaded up to offer a late challenge at the basket, and then had his legs buckle as he fell to the floor, a sight that must have been painful for almost everyone watching this game.

    It wasn’t much better on the other end of the floor. You could argue that his lack of touch made it look worse than it otherwise should have, but Embiid also showed little ability or desire to get beyond that midrange level, even with small, mismatched players he could have attacked. His long twos were longer than usual, and with opportunities to attack the basket in transition, he appeared to hold back at least a couple of times, tossing soft kick-outs to the corner instead of forcing the Warriors to wrap him up and foul.

    It didn’t get any better as the game wore on. In the second half, Embiid had opportunities to try to attack the basket (or solo coverage) and he kept defaulting to a sideways post-up on his hip, almost hopping with his dribble rather than trying to get into a stance and leverage his weight against smaller guys. I am not a doctor, but that looked like a clear example of a guy who didn’t trust his ability to explode off of the knee.

    Perhaps you could make the case that Embiid’s lack of conditioning is as problematic as whatever pain/injury he’s dealing with, and I’m sure it didn’t help, but I’d push back for multiple reasons.

    1. The knee has been an ongoing problem dating back over a month at this point. There are conflicting versions of how bad the problem is depending on who you talk to.
    2. We’re getting no more than “soreness” as a designation. De’Anthony Melton’s diagnosis, by comparison, is “lumbar spine stress response.” The specificity gap is comical.
    3. This is not an unfamiliar look for anyone who has seen Embiid play through injury in the playoffs

    It has been alluded to in reporting at other outlets that this is just something Embiid “has” to play through the rest of this season. I could not tell you what the actual solution is to this problem, but I reject that premise. If Embiid is so compromised that he is gunshy as an attacker and a rim protector, there is no way you could tell me the best solution is to just wake up every day, see how he looks before the game, and then hope he can play well enough through pain to get through that night.

    An important note to include here: the franchise player is going to have the loudest voice in the room when it comes to whether he plays or not. But there is going to have to be a unified front from the other big names in the organization if this is what the immediate future looks like. Dragging through the season like this is asinine.

    All of this became moot in the final minutes of the game when Jonathan Kuminga fell directly on Embiid’s injured knee, causing the big man to yelp in pain before slowly walking off of the floor. You can’t say the Sixers could have predicted that specifically, but when a gigantic man is favoring one leg as a result of a knee injury, you are playing with fire. Hard to believe the guy who looked like a giraffe on ice skates ended up in a dangerous situation.

    Absolute stupidity all around.

    — Tony Brothers went to the monitor, looked at Steph Curry pushing off of Kelly Oubre before Oubre fouled him on a made three, and said there was not enough to overturn the foul.

    Tony Brothers went to the monitor, looked at Kelly Oubre exerting the same amount of effort to push Andrew Wiggins on a different play, and said it was a foul on Oubre.

    Just making an observation.

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