There was one play very early in Game 5 that clearly illustrated how much Joel Embiid’s sprained right thumb is bothering him. Following a timeout, the Sixers’ big man tried to catch a pass in the paint but couldn’t do it. The ball bounced off his outstretched fingertip as he turned the ball over with 7:53 showing in the first quarter.
It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but that thumb injury is more worrisome than anyone is letting on. Embiid has been struggling to secure rebounds — slapping the ball out, instead of pulling it down — while his passing has looked less crisp. The MVP candidate isn’t a liability, but he’s not himself.
“The thing that is really affected is, you know, I think I’m in a situation where I try to protect it [the thumb],” Embiid said. “So before I even attack or before, if I get the ball, it’s almost like I’m not playing freely, where like if I do this I might get hit or I might get hurt … so I just got to, mentally, I just got to get out of that and hope for the best and be myself and not think about which move can put me in a bad position to get hit or get hurt even more so I’ll work on it.”
It’s good that Embiid wants to work on it, but the Sixers are running out of time. Their 103-88 loss in Game 5 breathed new life into the Raptors who can even this best-of-seven series up in Toronto on Thursday night. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers knows they have to figure something out in a hurry.
“I think Joel is trying to figure out his way and that’s just going to take a minute,” Rivers said, “but we got to figure it out now and win games.”
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Embiid Not Worried, Says Sixers Are ‘Fine’
Philadelphia has lost back-to-back games as inevitable doubt starts to creep in. Remember, the Sixers were on the ropes in Game 3 and could have easily lost that one if Embiid didn’t hit a heroic game-winning triple in overtime. The team needs to get back to the same recipe that had them cooking in Game 1 and Game 2 when they won by 20 and 15 points, respectively.
“We’re good, I mean it’s the same recipe,” Embiid said after Game 5. “Don’t turn the ball over, offensive rebounds, we definitely got to be better defensively, more connected defensively. I felt like there were a few plays where we were not on point and we did not have each other’s backs but we’re fine. There’s a reason why we won three games in a row, offensively we haven’t been ourselves and that’s the reason why we lost these last two games so we just have to be better.”
Embiid averaged 27.6 points and 13 rebounds in those first three games. He’s down to 20.5 points and 9.5 in the two contests post-injury. Everyone – not just Embiid – has to step up.
“We can’t get away from what has really worked during the three games that we have won,” Tobias Harris said, “and that’s just the motto for the next game: we got to be better.”
Raptors Refuse to Go Quietly
The brooms were out heading into Game 4 as the Sixers looked to claim their first playoff series sweep since 1991. Obviously, the Raptors had other plans. They have been able to stave off elimination in consecutive games, including on the road in front of a hostile Philly crowd. It’s been a total team effort, according to Thaddeus Young.
“We go out there and play as hard as we can. Everybody listens to each other,” Young said. “No one man is bigger than the team. And that’s why we’re able to go out there and win basketball games. And we’re able to get ourselves back into this series and continue to fight each and every night.”