76ers

Markelle Fultz injury update: Guard out indefinitely with thoracic outlet syndrome

Markelle Fultz injury update: Guard out indefinitely with thoracic outlet syndrome

Updated: 8:21 p.m.

Markelle Fultz has a new diagnosis.

Vice President of athlete care Dr. Daniel Medina said in a statement Tuesday that Fultz has been diagnosed with Thoracic outlet syndrome after a series of consultations with various specialists. 

Fultz will begin physical therapy immediately and is out indefinitely.

The second-year guard decided, at the recommendation of his agent, Raymond Brothers, to seek outside consultation on Nov. 20. He has not played or practiced with the Sixers since then.

According to a report on Nov. 21 from The Athletic, Fultz “could prefer a change in scenery.” This diagnosis makes an imminent trade improbable.

Fultz missed 68 games his rookie year with a diagnosis of scapular muscle imbalance. 

Brothers told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Fultz has been diagnosed with neurogenic Thoracic outlet syndrome, the most common form of Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). Fultz will begin his rehabilitation in Los Angeles, Brothers informed Wojnarowski.

Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic reports Fultz will work with Judy Seto, former head physical therapist of the Los Angeles Lakers, with the Sixers' support. Sixers general manager Elton Brand worked with Seto to recover from a torn Achilles tendon in 2007. 

Wojnarowski reports that, though the team is saying Fultz is out indefinitely, there is optimism Fultz can return within three to six weeks

NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark reports Fultz has seen over 10 specialists over the past year, and that one suggested TOS as a possible condition but determined it wouldn't prevent Fultz from playing. Specialists this week diagnosed the syndrome.

Per The Mayo Clinic, neurogenic TOS is "characterized by compression of the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that come from your spinal cord and control muscle movements and sensation in your shoulder, arm and hand.”

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'Unstoppable' Joel Embiid has eventful and dominant night in win vs. Celtics

'Unstoppable' Joel Embiid has eventful and dominant night in win vs. Celtics

It seemed like the psyche of the entire fan base depended upon Wednesday night’s game.

It’s no secret the Celtics have owned the Sixers recently. And when Boston held an 11-point lead at the half, the thought of “here we go again” likely crept into the heads of the Wells Fargo Center crowd. 

Enter Joel Embiid.

The All-Star center was dominant in the Sixers’ 118-115 win over the Celtics (see observations), posting 37 points and 22 rebounds in 41 minutes — the second-most minutes he’s played this season.

“Jo has done that countless amount of times this year so it’s no surprise to you, it’s no surprise to me [or] to anybody else watching this interview,” Jimmy Butler said. “He is a force to be reckoned with, man. He does it all. He’s carried us night and in and night out. We’re grateful for it. We need him healthy moving forward.”

As his eight-game absence after the All-Star break showed, as Embiid goes so go the Sixers. After he struggled during the team’s most recent loss to Boston, a lot was made of Al Horford’s effectiveness in guarding him.

Embiid took note and learned from that matchup.

I figured out that when I play low and I’m in attack mode and I want to get to the rim, I’m basically unstoppable and I’m going to get to the free throw line,” Embiid said while wearing a hoodie that read "BBQ CHKN." “Tonight I felt like I was aggressive from the start and I’ve got to have that same mentality every night.

To say Embiid was able “to get to the free throw line” would be a gross understatement. He lived at it, making an absurd 20 of 21 from the line. If that sounds like a rare feat, it’s because it is. Embiid is the first seven-footer in NBA history to take 20 foul shots in a game and shoot at least 95 percent from the foul line, per Basketball Reference.

Two of those free throws were rewarded by virtue of a flagrant foul. Marcus Smart, who was sent to the floor via an Embiid screen, thought it would be a good idea to then shove Embiid while his back was turned. Smart was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected. The play seemed to ignite Embiid — who was hit with a technical — and 20,000-plus people that were looking for any reason to go crazy.

But for as special as Embiid was on the offensive end of the floor, it was again his defense that truly propelled the Sixers. The box score shows only one block, but it was arguably the biggest play of the game.

First, you need to go back to the beginning of the game. The Sixers’ switch-heavy defense burned them early as Embiid got matched up on All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who hit a couple first-quarter threes. There were other plays where Embiid was switched on to Irving that ended in a foul — one of those being questionable enough to provoke a rare technical from Brett Brown. 

With the Sixers clinging to a 116-113 lead with 30.7 seconds left, Embiid found himself on Irving yet again. This time, Embiid allowed Irving to slip to the basket but was able to recover to block the shot without fouling.

It’s a play not many seven-footers could make.

Look, we're asking a lot of Jo,” JJ Redick said. “It's a tough cover because if he switches onto Irving or [Terry] Rozier, that's a tough cover. If they do the throw back to Horford and he's got a long closeout, that's nearly impossible, so we're asking a lot of him. It was a huge defensive play. And really, it was almost two plays — it was the block and then the defensive rebound after that.

Having the best season of his young career and with MVP-type performances like Wednesday, Embiid has shown a touch of humility … just a touch.

He hasn’t been talking as much trash on social media — though he did have a little fun postgame — and he’s been much more complimentary of his opponents.

But after a game like this, his emotions were running high as he declared himself “the best defensive player in the league” during his walk-off interview with ESPN. 

A reporter offered him a chance to walk back the comment. 

He, of course, doubled down.

“I just said it again. I am. I always say it. I say it all the time,” Embiid said. “I try to do the best job I can with my teammates’ help. I really focus on that end and one of my goals is to win the Defensive Player of the Year. I’m going to keep doing my job and try to help us defensively.”

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Sixers shatter any notions of the Celtics having some sort of bizarre spell over them with win

Sixers shatter any notions of the Celtics having some sort of bizarre spell over them with win

For the first two quarters and 54 seconds of the Sixers’ game against the Celtics on Wednesday night, logic and reason apparently left the Wells Fargo Center. 

Just about everything Terry Rozier put up went in; Brett Brown got a technical foul in the second quarter for arguing a dubious foul call on Joel Embiid; outside of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers shot 9 for 36 in the first half. The Sixers, on paper, had the more talented team, but the Celtics were going to sweep the season series.

Then, less than a minute into the third quarter, with Boston leading, 69-58, the bizarre fog broke. Marcus Smart took objection to a screen by Embiid, got up from the floor, and shoved Embiid in the back. He got a Flagrant 2 foul and was ejected. As he exited down the tunnel, Smart asked for louder boos from a crowd incredulous that someone had just taken a cheap shot at their superstar but, more than anything, angry.

It would be a stretch to say everything made sense after Smart’s ejection. But, from that point, the notion of the Celtics being in the Sixers’ heads or having some sort of mystical hold over them dissolved. The Sixers beat the Celtics, 118-115 (see observations), their sixth straight win and the team's first vs. Boston since Game 4 of their second-round series last year against the Celtics, on May 7 — the T.J. McConnell Game. 

Though his teammates generally stayed away from the topic of Smart’s ejection, Embiid — who received a technical foul on the play — said it motivated him.

“For sure,” he said. “Stuff like that, it gets me going, it gets the crowd going and everybody knows that I play better when the crowd is involved. That energy was definitely good for us.”

Tobias Harris could sense, in just his second game as a Sixer vs. the Celtics, how much it meant to overcome Boston.

“You could feel it in the arena from the fans once the game was over,” Harris said. “And throughout the game, you could feel the passion from the fans of how much they wanted the win, how much we wanted to win. Any time you’re faced against another really good team and a team that’s kind of had their number for some time now, it’s always going to be an intense environment and intense game all around.”

There are tangible, basketball reasons the Sixers overcame a deficit as large as 15 points in the second period. Embiid was incredible, scoring 37 points, pulling down a career-high 22 rebounds, and getting to the foul line 21 times, missing only once. Jimmy Butler (22 points) made clutch shots in isolation and pick-and-rolls situations in the fourth quarter. The Sixers’ defensive communication was much improved in the second half.

But beating Boston was always going to be about more than following schemes and executing game plans. 

“I think that the spirit of the group, the tenacity of that team, where they didn’t waver in belief, was as much of an important factor to me as when I look down and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we won,’” Brown said.

But yes, the Sixers did win Wednesday, and Butler admitted the obvious — it was more important than an ordinary victory.

“Hell yeah,” he said. “I haven't beat these guys yet while I've been here. Jo was so excited to be able to compete against these guys tonight saying how much this game meant to him. But like I said earlier, in order to consider yourself a really good team you got to beat those really good teams. I got a really good feeling we'll probably see those guys some time down the road.”

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