There was a scary scene late in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Joel Embiid was crashing the boards when he seemed to aggravate his injured right knee. The Philadelphia 76ers big man hopped around on it rather gingerly and then powered through the pain.
Embiid and the Sixers lost Sunday’s game 128-124 to the Atlanta Hawks. More importantly, their All-Star center made it through the series opener in one piece while looking like his usual dominant self. Embiid finished with 39 points and nine rebounds in 38 minutes. There was no pitch count or minute restriction on him, and the 7-footer didn’t foresee any coming in the future. He may be playing hobbled, but that won’t stop him from being aggressive. Embiid’s message was simple: it’s the playoffs.
“You can’t worry about how many minutes someone is supposed to play or is going to play. You got to go with your best guys,” Embiid told reporters. “As long as I’m OK to be out there, I’m going to be my best and I’m going to keep pushing until I can’t. But as long as I’m out there, I’m going to play hard. I’m going to dive for loose balls. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”
The bent-but-not-broken Cameroonian admitted that the “small tear” in his meniscus bothered him at times. He planned to ice it down after Game 1 and head to the trainer’s room for treatment. And keep it elevated just like his hopes of winning a championship.
“Playing on a torn meniscus is not easy but all I can do is keep managing it and do my best,” Embiid said. “Try to manage it to make sure it doesn’t swell up too much. Obviously, the pain is going to be there, that’s normal. Managing it and doing whatever it takes to win because my goal is to win the championship and I’m going to put my body on the line to make that happen. I’m going to give everything I got.”
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Teammates Marvel at Embiid’s Comeback
Everyone watching on TV got pretty nervous when Embiid’s knee started flopping around. His teammates just marveled at him and kept feeding him on the low block. The four-time All-Star couldn’t be stopped even if was playing on only one good knee. Embiid went 14-of-15 from the free-throw line while dishing out four dimes.
“He looked fine out there, he looked good,” veteran forward Tobias Harris said. “He looked really good in getting to his spots and just being a force for us. Obviously, we want him to be as healthy as possible but he played his tail off for us tonight, for sure.”
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was a bit worried in the final three minutes, though. Philadelphia employed a frenzied, trapping defense to get back into the game. They whittled the Hawks’ lead down to two points — one that had swelled to 26 at one point — but it required diving for loose balls and flailing bodies in transition. On one play, Embiid hit the deck hard while trying to foul John Collins on a fast break.
“I did not like him on the floor at that point because I didn’t want him doing those things, to be honest,” Rivers said. “That’s when we told him to just stand back because those are the ones you get injured on. Other than that, I thought he played in a space where he was safe, other than that last three minutes.”
Ben Simmons Wants Trae Young in Game 2
Prior to Game 1, Rivers talked about rotating different guys on Hawks star Trae Young. He opened the game with Danny Green on Young. It wasn’t pretty. The 22-year-old guard dropped 12 points in the first quarter en route to 35 points, including four dagger threes.
Many people were scratching their heads as to why Ben Simmons wasn’t glued to Young from the start. He opened the third quarter on him, with Matisse Thybulle taking his turn. Simmons made it clear that he expects to make a bigger impact defensively in Game 2.
“I probably will do that. I want to,” Simmons said of guarding Young. “See if the refs are going to let us play a little bit.”