Joel Embiid isn’t making excuses. He has no desire to still be wearing a mask and goggles, but he isn’t citing the required protective gear as the reason for his performance in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“Everything I’ve been able to do in the series, I won’t put that on the mask,” Embiid said after practice Sunday as the Sixers trail 3-0. “It’s just on me.”

Embiid has had to play in the mask the entire postseason after suffering a left orbital bone fracture and concussion on March 28 during an in-game collision with Markelle Fultz. He missed 10 contests, sitting out until Game 3 of the first round against the Heat. 

The big man has said the mask, known as “The Phantom of the Process,” affects his vision, including fogginess on the goggles. He lifts it off his face for free throws, only a temporary respite. The Sixers have to keep extra masks on hand in case one breaks amid Embiid's physical play.

"You can see the abundance of masks we have," Brett Brown said. "They come in like frisbees." 

Looking at Embiid’s numbers, it’s hard to sense any kind of obstacles. He is averaging 24.3 points, 15.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists while slamming down monster dunks. In doing so, he joined Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, Billy Cunningham, Wilt Chamberlain and Dolph Schayes as the sixth player in Sixers history with three consecutive playoff games of 20 points and 10 rebounds. 

The Celtics are challenging him defensively, though, and he feels the effects of their strategy.


“Boston has you thinking a lot,” Embiid said. “Sometimes they double, sometimes they dig, sometimes they let you play 1-on-1, and sometimes the spacing is not right. So it’s a lot of thinking. It’s just on me to figure it out.” 

Brown believes the mask has factored into Embiid’s offense. He has noticed a difference on certain looks, including long-range where Embiid is 3 for 12 in the first three games. 

“Of course, is the answer, he’s been impacted,” Brown said. “The mask, there is no doubt that that has some level of an impact. I think on his three-point shot, as much as anything, I’m sure you could connect some dots with post play or jump hooks or turn-and-face, how can it not? I mean, how can it not? But I think he’s done a great job of playing through it.” 

In Game 4, Embiid is looking to bounce back from two costly plays that didn’t have to do with his offense … because there was no opportunity for a shot. Much like how he isn’t tying his scoring to the mask, he didn’t make excuses for the breakdown in execution in those moments. 

Tied 87-87 with 4.7 seconds left in regulation, Embiid and Ben Simmons failed to get open on a JJ Redick bad pass turnover off the inbound that led to a Celtics go-ahead bucket. 

“We didn’t execute well,” Embiid said. “That’s not on the coaching staff. That’s a play we run all the time and we score all the time on that. So that’s on us. That’s on us for not executing.”

The Sixers trailed by one with 5.5 seconds to go in overtime when Al Horford picked off an inbound pass attempt from Simmons to Embiid. Horford drained both free throws to push the lead to the deciding three points. 

“That’s not his fault,” Embiid said. “He saw me, I was open, and I should have gone to the ball. So it’s my fault for not going to the ball. Nobody else’s fault but me.” 

While Embiid isn't pointing fingers to where he could have played better, the Sixers aren't coming down on him either. The entire team has struggled against the Celtics, who have cleverly drawn up defensive tactics that pose their own set of challenges in addition to any difficulties caused by the mask.

"I’m proud of him the way he’s tried to come in and help our team even with having to play with an obvious level of restriction," Brown said.