Sixers superstar Joel Embiid had his first true clunker of the 2021 postseason on Monday night, going 4-for-20 from the field in a crushing Game 4 loss to the Hawks.
Embiid finished with 17 points and 21 rebounds, but it was clearly not his finest night and he seemed out of rhythm the entire game.
Was it the slight meniscus tear in his right knee? That certainly seemed to be holding him back, and while Embiid said afterwards he wasn't making excuses, he also admitted the knee was bothering him.
On the Hawks' side, however, Atlanta center Clint Capela seemed to think his play had something to do with Embiid's poor performance:
Is this the spiciest trash talk? No, not by a long shot. You might not even call it trash talk. Capela is right when he says that a fatigued Embiid isn't the same guy; it's true of every player, but it's still true. When Embiid dealt with conditioning issues in past seasons, it was the one thing that got in the way of him being a truly unstoppable force.
This season, however, has been different for Embiid. He hasn't deal with fatigue. What we saw Monday night was unrecognizable to anyone who's watched the Sixers this season, and it's probably not coincidental that he's seemed less like himself the longer he's tried to battle through his meniscus issue.
Capela wasn't wearing Embiid down on Monday night with anything he was doing. The two players aren't even remotely comparable. Embiid was gassed by the end of the night likely because he's playing two games: the physical on the court against the Hawks, and the mental (and physical) against his own body as he tries to keep going in the face of this nagging injury.
Even with Embiid hobbled, the Sixers big man out-scored and out-rebounded Capela on Monday night, scoring four more points and grabbing eight more rebounds in just one extra minute of playing time.
I'm not sure Capela was trying to go after Embiid and assert himself as some sort of difference-maker on the floor, but if he was, I'm not really buying it. Embiid has been balling all postseason, and was crushing the Hawks through three games. One bad game that seemed to be injury-fueled? Nah, that's not a win for anyone. It's just a loss for Embiid and the Sixers.
Capela, of course, wasn't afraid to speak his mind in Round 1 vs. the Knicks when he called out Julius Randle and the Knicks for faux physicality. So maybe he's trying to rile up another opponent. Who knows?
To this point, Sixers-Hawks has been relatively docile. But we're heading into Game 5, a make-or-break more often than not, and things are starting to heat up. We'll see if any more sparks fly as this series goes on.