After not being listed on the team’s injury report and then having a spectacular 33-point performance in Game 3, it looked like the Joel Embiid health drama was behind us.
Or so we thought.
After another ineffective offensive game, Embiid’s health was once again at the forefront of postgame availability following the Sixers’ 101-96 loss to the Raptors in Game 4 at the Wells Fargo Center Sunday (see observations).
It wasn’t the achy knee that caused him to miss so much time at the end of the season or the gastroenteritis that plagued him in Game 2.
But it was enough to text his coach just after dawn to make him aware of the illness.
“I got a text from him at 6:20 a.m. this morning telling me he didn’t sleep all night, he really never felt this poorly and he was unsure if [he was] going to play,” Brett Brown said. “‘I want to give you a heads up. I’ll try, but I don’t know.’ With that, started my day … to his complete credit, he just kind of willed his way through it.”
Embiid was not on the floor for the national anthem and was late joining his teammates for warm-ups. Brown wasn’t sure if it was because his All-Star center was receiving treatment, but he figured that was the case.
Brown was adamant that it had nothing to do with the tendinitis Embiid has been dealing with in his left knee.
“No, it’s a virus,” Brown said. “All during pregame film, you can hear him sneezing and sneezing and sneezing. You try to ignore it and coach through and show the players pregame tape, but I’d be lying if I were to tell you it wasn’t completely on my mind as I’m talking to the team and showing the tape, listening and seeing him.”
Outside of his stellar Game 3, Embiid has struggled mightily on offense. He was 9 of 18 in Thursday’s win. On Sunday, he was 2 of 7. Outside of Game 3, he’s 9 of 32 in the other three games combined. There’s no question the Sixers need more from their “crown jewel.”
Embiid clearly wasn’t 100 percent. He had a particularly rough stretch in the fourth quarter. During one stretch, he made just 1 of 4 from the line — though in his defense he’s been excellent from there in the playoffs — and committed two bad turnovers with the game still well within the Sixers’ grasp.
Even if Embiid doesn’t feel like the same dominant player he was for most of the season, the Sixers need him to take more than seven shots. Even a decent offensive effort out of Embiid and they likely win.
"It sucks,” Embiid said. “But you gotta focus on the right things if you're in that type of situation. I usually tend to focus defensively, especially when I go into games where I don't think I'm going to be as aggressive as usual. Gotta focus on the defensive end and that's what I tried to do."
Embiid said this wasn’t the same illness he dealt with in Toronto. That was just his stomach and now he’s experiencing “headaches and all that." The team is calling it an upper respiratory infection. Like before Game 2, he received more IVs.
For what he lacked on the offensive end, Embiid was still excellent defensively. He had two vicious blocks on Serge Ibaka and affected several more shots at the rim. He still wound up a plus-17.
Any Joel Embiid is better than no Joel Embiid.
“He just forced his way into playing,” Brown said. “Really when you look at it, he was plus-17. We're going to look at whatever he shot from the floor, his free throws or whatever, cut to the chase and go to the bottom line and plus/minus and despite him being ill and despite seven shots or what he shot at the free throw line, and really his free throws were quite good up until the fourth period, he ends up a plus-17. It's just another reminder of how important he is to our team.”
And nothing is more important than Embiid’s health.
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