After a shocking, thrilling, electric 119-115 victory up in Boston in Game one of this best of seven matchup vs. two storied rivals, fans are wondering if the Philadelphia 76ers will have their MVP candidate back in the lineup for the second game vs. Jayson Tatum and the Celtics.
Unfortunately, on the Tuesday evening injury report, the 76ers listed Joel Embiid as officially “Doubtful.”
So they’ll at least prepare to win without their superstar once again while they practice and draw up rotations before Wednesday’s tipoff.
James Harden stole the show in the opening matchup of the Eastern Conference Semis. The Beard delivered his best performance in a Sixers uniform to date, one of the best performances of these playoffs thus far, and frankly, one of the best performances of his own illustrious career, considering the competition and stage.
Harden scored 45 points on 7-of-14 shooting, silencing a raucous crowd.
Instead of sulking over the circumstances, the Sixers turned a “here we go again” situation into a team-defining moment. https://t.co/y39v3kNtBt— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) May 2, 2023
They’ll likely turn to the ASU product to lead the charge again tomorrow, because it doesn’t quite sound like Embiid is ready to go just yet, as he heals from an LCL sprain suffered Game three of round one vs. the Brooklyn Nets.
Doc Rivers told reporters at practice on Tuesday that there will be no change in his leading scorer’s status.
“He’s working out today. He’s over there with some of our guys right now... but the fact that he’s doing that is a step forward for sure.”
Rivers was asked if the team winning without Embiid changes their calculus. For example, might they be less likely to push him to return now that they saw they can steal a game?
“No, it’s just health-based. If he can play, he plays,” Rivers continued. “If he can’t, he can’t. If it’s 50-50, we would probably err on the other side (of sitting him out) because we’ve done that all year. So we’re not going to take any chances. When he’s ready, he’ll play.”
We can infer based off of that, Joel isn’t quite in that 50-50 “game time decision” territory just yet. Throughout his career, fans have grown accustomed to Joel warming up before a game and giving his team a thumbs up or thumbs down depending on how it felt. But it doesn’t sound like we’re at that point yet.
But there are continued signs of progress. Embiid is increasing his activity on a daily basis, despite being limited in practice.
“He’s doing some running,” Rivers said, “and so we’ll see how he looks.… He has done some pool work and stuff. It’s just not basketball, at the end of the day. I thought yesterday, even though we had a full week off and (practicing), I thought the first five minutes of the game, we were gassed. You don’t play playoff basketball for a week, and then you get in and they were flying. You’re exhausted. When he does come back — Game 2, Game 3, whenever he comes back — he’s going to be tired. We’re going to have to monitor that as well. That’ll be a new thing to throw in. Probably our substitution rotations would have to change.”
That Doc used a potential Game 3 as an example for a hypothetical return at least raises eyebrows.
Many fans would happily take a fatigued version of Joel, not quite back in game shape, if it meant their star being out there at all. Their first-half defense in Game one was pretty troubling, as the Celtics absolutely lived at the rim, converting on dozens of shots Joel would normally have deterred into kick outs or contested for misses.
How about any more specifics on the stuff Joel is actually doing?
“We’re just doing some skeleton work. Running through our shell offense, doing it up and down a couple of times and seeing how he fares,” Philadelphia’s future Hall of Fame head coach explained.
But it sounds like a lot will hinge on the next day after Tuesday’s workout.
“That’s the whole key. That’s why we’re doing it. You have to do it the day before to see if the next day, there’s increased swelling. Then, even if he feels good, it’s a no. So that’s what we’ll have to find out tomorrow.”
So for now, Sixers fans will hope Embiid continues to make progress, without overnight swelling, and we start to hear reports that he’s back to practicing in full.
In the mean time, fans can hope for another Harden masterclass on the road, or for Tyrese Maxey to get a turn at cracking 40. Can you imagine if somehow the Sixers went up 2-0 without Joel, coming back to the crib? I haven’t even allowed myself to dream that yet. Maybe I will later.