76ers

Joel Embiid out for Game 2, even after clearing a big hurdle

Joel Embiid out for Game 2, even after clearing a big hurdle

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid remains out for Game 2 of the Sixers' first-round series against the Heat.

Embiid cleared the NBA's concussion protocol but is sidelined because of an orbital bone fracture in his left eye.

He suffered the injury March 28 during a collision with Markelle Fultz. The Sixers have made adjustments since then, winning nine of their 17 straight in his absence.

Brett Brown said the decision on Embiid's availability for Game 2 was not going to be based on whether the Sixers won or lost the series opener.

"It’s just what is best for Joel’s health," he said. "And it’s been determined that he should not play Game 2 for that reason."

Their fast-paced, three-point-centric style has proven successful with an athletic roster deep with shooters. 

Amir Johnson has been starting in place of Embiid. In their Game 1 blowout of the Heat, Brett Brown started Ersan Ilyasova at the five-spot in a pivotal third quarter to cause matchup challenges. Heat center Hassan Whiteside played only four minutes in the second half. 

There is no timeframe for Embiid's return. He said he has been able to stay patient during these injuries because the team has been streaking without him. If the Sixers continue to win over the Heat like they did in Game 1, that could lessen the sense of rush for him to return. And when he does come back, the team is ready to bring him back into the mix.

"We'll still play fast," JJ Redick said Sunday. "We'll play a little bit slower. We'll have a little more set plays to get him the ball in the post. But I don't think the philosophy changes all that much. Probably when we are at our best is when we are balancing sort of making sure he has touches in the post with that sort of flow action we've played with the last couple weeks."

Embiid has stayed involved with the team during his injury. He donned a "Phantom of the Process" mask to ring the ceremonial bell at half court prior to Game 1.

Sixers eager to learn whether they can deliver final blow to Heat

Sixers eager to learn whether they can deliver final blow to Heat

Now comes the hard part.

Sure, the Sixers return to the Wells Fargo Center for Tuesday night’s Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead over the Miami Heat. But everyone knows the fourth and final victory to eliminate an opponent is the toughest one.

“You’re throwing jabs, you’re feeling each other out. Then later on in the series, you have to deliver a crushing blow,” JJ Redick said at Monday’s practice. “You have to finish them.”

This version of the Sixers has never finished off a playoff series and it’s been quite a while since the organization has advanced in the postseason at all.

The last time was May 10, 2012, when the Sixers knocked off the top-seeded and severely banged-up Chicago Bulls. Andre Iguodala made a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds left in Game 6 to give the Sixers a 79-78 home win to reach the second round.

Those were the days of the “Show Ya Luv” Sixers. That squad featured varied first-round draft picks, who made the most out of playing with heart and hustle. 

These “Trust the Process” Sixers comprised of topflight lottery picks are finding out that same formula carries weight in the postseason and certainly Philadelphia. It’s the superstar-level talent that sets the 2017-18 team apart from the previous group and has it thinking about more than just a single series victory.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Joel Embiid said (see story). “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.”

The latest step in the Sixers’ journey is available to them at 8 p.m. in front of a crowd that will be at full throat once things tip off.

Will they deliver that knockout blow? It won’t be easy either way, but the franchise is eager to see how it handles the next challenge in this real-time maturation process now taking place on the NBA’s grandest stage.

“I look at the playoffs and I look at our team, we have as much room for growth as anybody,” head coach Brett Brown said. “I think we have more room for growth. I look at this as a really exciting opportunity. You sort of go through college and now here we are in grad school, if you will. We have a chance to learn a lot more. A lot more. And we need to.”

Joel Embiid ready for home playoff debut, says Sixers' 'time is now'

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USA Today Images

Joel Embiid ready for home playoff debut, says Sixers' 'time is now'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid received a text message from across the NBA following the Sixers’ 27-point win over the Heat in Game 1. 

It was from Draymond Green, sending his championship-winning insight. 

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.” 

Green was right. Each contest has been a match of adjustments, including Embiid’s return from a 10-game layoff. Wearing a required mask with goggles, Embiid played in the Sixers’ Game 3 and Game 4 victories. 

Now he’s poised to make his postseason home debut Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, where he’s been eager to compete in a playoff game his entire career. 

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.” 

Embiid’s offensive game has been impacted since coming back from a concussion and left orbital fracture suffered on March 28. He scored 23 points (5 for 11 FG) with seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three turnovers in Game 3. The following game, he posted 14 points (2 for 11 FG, 0 for 4 from three), 12 rebounds, five blocks and eight turnovers. Embiid is shooting 31.8 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the line in the series. 

“The main thing, especially when it (the offense) doesn’t go my way, is just be a beast defensively,” he said. 

Embiid cannot play without the protective mask, though, which he has described as “annoying” and “weird.” Markelle Fultz and Amir Johnson tried on the goggles after practice Monday to get a glimpse into his line of vision. 

“They kind of saw my pain when I have to wear them,” Embiid said. “But that can’t be an excuse. I have to get used to it.” 

Embiid’s mindset going into Game 5 is to close out the Heat series and get some extra time before the second round (see story). The Celtics and Bucks series is tied 2-2. He sees the first round as just the starting point for the Sixers’ postseason. 

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far. 

"So it’s just about us taking care of the little things, like not turning the ball over, just playing together, like we've been doing, sharing the ball, not be selfish, and everything is going to take care of itself." 

Embiid will take the court for his first postseason game in Philadelphia when the Sixers tip off against the Heat at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBCSP.

"The playoffs, that’s kind of like you play in front of the whole world," Embiid said. "I feel like I thrive in that type of situation because I feel like I was made for this."