Joel Embiid isn’t going to play scared. That’s why the Philadelphia 76ers’ big man was diving after loose balls and fighting for rebounds in Game 5 despite a broken face and sprained thumb. Still, everyone can see the snubbed MVP isn’t himself right now.
Embiid admitted that he’s in a “lose-lose situation” during his post-game press conference on Tuesday night. The Phantom of the Process returned to much fanfare in Game 3 and the Sixers fed off his energy to win two straight games. However, adrenaline can only take you so far. The fact of the matter is that the 28-year-old Cameroonian isn’t 100% healthy. He’s not the same dominant force from the regular season.
“It’s just about pain tolerance and this is a lose-lose situation for me,” Embiid told reporters, with his right eye noticeably puffy. “If I don’t play you know probably they call me soft. And if I play and I play bad they probably come up with a bunch of stuff that I guess he’s just not good enough, so it’s all about just trying to stay … not get too high or too low, and just going out there and trying to, like I said, dig very deep, and try to do whatever I can.”
Embiid finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds in Game 5 — 11 of those 17 points came in the third quarter. That was really the only time he was aggressive as the Miami Heat swarmed him with double and triple teams every time he touched the ball. They trapped him at the perimeter and crowded him in the paint.
“For myself, I got to dig deeper than I have,” Embiid said. “Kind of try and forget about what’s going on and just play freely. Even in the two wins [in Philadelphia], I wasn’t aggressive. Tonight, I tried in the third quarter and we just couldn’t get stops, and I just gotta have that mentality for four quarters and I like our chances to come back here [to Miami].”
The Sixers face a must-win in Game 6 since they are down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The teams return to action on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.
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Embiid Hurting, Vows to ‘Keep Pushing’
Embiid sat out the first two games to recover from an orbital bone fracture and a mild concussion. Those ailments were in addition to a torn ligament in his right thumb. Then the Sixers star took a basketball to the face in Game 5 while trying to get a rebound, minutes after hurting his back from a hard crash into a chair while chasing a loose ball into the front row.
Yes, Embiid is feeling the pain but he’ll never use any of those injuries as an excuse.
“I thought coming in I had the right mindset,” Embiid said. “I had the right mindset about what I wanted to accomplish and as far as myself and the team to try to get the win, and there’s a lot going on. So sometimes your body, and whatever’s going on as you know, won’t allow you to just be yourself. In those moments you just gotta keep pushing, hope for the best — but, like I said, it’s at this point about just being there and just keep pushing.”
When a reporter pressed him about the injuries and how much pain he was really in, Embiid stayed in character.
“If I say I don’t feel a certain way it’s probably looked at as excuses,” Embiid said. “If I don’t say anything it’s probably looked at as ‘meh, he must be fine’ so I don’t have an answer. Y’all know what’s going on. I’m just really just pushing through it.”
Doc Rivers Details Star Center’s Toughness
Dewayne Dedmon got a hand on the ball that drilled Embiid in the face with 6:11 to go in the second quarter. He was writhing in pain on the ground for a long time before Doc Rivers jumped off the bench and started yelling at referee Kane Fitzgerald.
The Sixers’ head coach was assessed a technical foul for his outburst. After the game, Rivers described the scene while talking about Embiid’s fight.
“He’s tough. I think he knew going into all of this that there’s going to be times, a couple times, where he’s going to get hit in the face,” Rivers told reporters. “It’s going to happen. I didn’t see the play. I still haven’t seen the play, but it’s going to happen. He kind of got up and said it’s fine after a while … it’s just a tough stretch for him but he’s a warrior.”
When asked if he ever thought about taking Embiid out of the game, Rivers defiantly said: “No.”