Joel Embiid wants to play, and the Sixers want him back too.
Even before Embiid posted the Instagram story, “F------ sick and tired of being babied” (see story), Brett Brown knew the Sixers needed the help of their All-Star center.
“When you’re seeking to become a whole team, you need Joel Embiid,” Brown said.
Embiid has missed the last 10 games because of a left orbital fracture and concussion suffered on March 28. He cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol but remains sidelined by the fracture, which he underwent surgery to repair.
Though Embiid has been hungry to return, he was able to stay patient because the Sixers were winning without him, including a Game 1 blowout. It took just one loss for him to express his desire to play on social media, and state it very clearly.
“He just wants to play basketball,” Brown said in response to the post following the Sixers’ 113-103 loss Monday to even the series (see observations). “He wants to be with his team, he wants to play in front of the fans and he wants to see this through. When he’s not able to do that, he gets frustrated, and I respect his frustrations. It’s born out of him wanting to be with his team.”
The Sixers’ loss to the Heat highlighted they cannot rely on their long-range shooting to get through the series. It had been a key to their success during the 16-game winning streak at the end of the regular season and a major factor in Game 1 (18 for 28). On Monday, they went just 7 for 36 on the night, including a 1-for-8 start in the first quarter (see highlights).
“When you look at those games when we won, we scored over 100 points,” Ersan Ilyasova said. “Now we’re kind of struggling offensively because they kind of apply a lot of pressure to us. … With Jo, he gives us more to kind of create and dump the ball and post up and see him create shots for others.”
The Sixers have experimented with different looks at the five spot. Amir Johnson started Game 1. Ilyasova got the start in Game 2 after the Sixers found success with him playing center off the bench in the series opener. As much as the Sixers can come up with mismatches, there is no replacing Embiid, who ended his second regular season averaging 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
“When the game slows down and you know you need a guaranteed bucket, you can throw it into Jo,” Johnson said. “Everything else will take care of itself. It causes foul trouble for them because he gets their bigs or whoever’s guarding him in foul trouble, which gets us early to the line.”
The Heat amped up their physical play in Game 2. Don’t expect them to let up, especially going back to their home court for the next two games on Thursday and Saturday.
“Jo adds more depth overall,” Robert Covington said. “This game is a game of physicality. Jo brings that in so many different ways and that would help us a lot.”
There is no date set for Embiid's return. Brown has said the Sixers are not going to rush him back if he is not healthy. It would be ideal for the team to get him involved in a practice environment before he plays, both for his conditioning and to integrate him back into a system that has been adjusted in his absence. When that game arrives, Embiid and the Sixers will be ready.
“He’s a superstar,” Johnson said. “Any chance you can get him whenever he’s healthy, he’ll definitely impact the game.”