Joel Embiid’s dramatic heave from underneath his own basket nearly sent the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns to overtime on Wednesday night. The 90-foot toss hit the backboard and rattled around the rim, with the ball dipping down and then back up and out at the last second. So close.
The All-Star center was somber after the Sixers’ 116-113 loss, calling the would-be buzzer-beater “unfortunate” while shooting down any positives from it. Embiid doesn’t believe in moral victories. But the 7-footer did provide a certifiable scare when he revealed that he almost missed the game due to his lingering knee injury. This could be a problem all year.
“I wasn’t supposed to play,” Embiid said, who was listed questionable before tip-off. “I’m not in the best physical shape at this point but we got a bunch of guys out and it’s my job to always manage to just go out and be a leader, just pushing it every night. I can’t rest even if I’m hurt.”
Tobias Harris (right knee), Ben Simmons (illness), and Seth Curry (left hip flexor) were all out versus Phoenix and could miss tomorrow’s road game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Embiid would normally take a night off on the second game of a back-to-back, but the big man told reporters that the team can’t afford him to do that. They want the No. 1 seed in the East.
“I just got to keep pushing it even if I’m hurt because at the end of the day, like I’ve been saying, that No. 1 seed is important,” Embiid said. “So I got to go out and fight, hopefully these guys … they get healthier and come back in and they can help us.”
Back to that Hail Mary heave at the buzzer for a minute. It was a third of the way down before taking a lucky Phoenix bounce. Did Embiid think the Sixers were heading to overtime?
“It felt good, ummm, it almost did [go in],” Embiid said. “I saw the screen shot and it looked like it went in and out and it was just unfortunate.”
Embiid finished with 38 points and 17 rebounds in 33 minutes, although he was quick to point out the two free throws he clanked in the fourth quarter. Those were the only freebies he missed all night.
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Doc Rivers Can’t Say Much About Simmons
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said he has “no idea” when his injured starters might return to the floor. He trotted out a patch-work smaller lineup featuring Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Danny Green, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid against the Suns. They played hard and nearly gutted out a win. It’s a tough time to catch the injury bug.
“I’m hoping a few are back [tomorrow] but I don’t know if all of them will be back, honestly,” Rivers said. “It is what it is, you go through this. Unfortunately, we are going through it at a key point but it’s nothing you can control.”
When asked specifically about Simmons’ health, Rivers seemed a bit more grim. He expects the star point guard to make the trip to Milwaukee, but it all depends on how he’s feeling. Simmons is sick with the flu, although it’s not COVID-19.
“I don’t know if I want him on the plane,” Rivers said. “You want to sit next to him? You know what I mean? We’ll just wait and see.”
Matisse Thybulle For NBA All-Defense Team
Thybulle was already a bit of cult hero in Philly thanks to that larger-than-life mural in Fishtown. Now his play on the court is putting the second-year guard in conversations for Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY). With Simmons out, Thybulle marked Suns All-Star Devin Booker for most of Wednesday night and held him to 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting for a minus-4. Rivers called his defense “absolutely phenomenal” while naming him one of the 10 best defenders in the NBA.
“I thought he was unbelievable overall,” Rivers said. “I thought he chased him to exhaustion. I don’t know if anyone’s done a better job on Devin. It’s tough.”
Rivers stopped short of giving him DPOY consideration due to a lack of minutes. Thybulle is only averaging 19.6 minutes per game but has made the most of that burn by holding opposing shooters to just 38% from the field. He has 84 steals and 57 blocks on the year.
“He should be on one of the All-Defensive teams,” Embiid said. “Between him and Ben, we have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and he’s one of them. He’s amazing.”