For the time being, the Sixers are holding their collective breath and hoping they don’t learn Saturday about anything that will have a catastrophic impact on their season.
Joel Embiid exited in the third quarter of the team’s 127-101 road win Friday night over the Wizards with what the Sixers called simply a “left knee injury,” and head coach Doc Rivers didn’t want to think too far beyond that fact.
“He just fell awkwardly,” Rivers said. “I thought there was a little contact when he went up to dunk the ball. I thought he fell with his balance off. I’m not going to speculate. Tomorrow we’ll have all the information for you. I’m hoping for the best. I did talk to him; he was in the locker room. He was in pretty good spirits, so let’s just hope for the best.”
Embiid, a four-time All-Star and MVP contender who entered Friday’s game averaging 30.2 points and 11.6 rebounds, will have an MRI Saturday in Philadelphia. His left knee appeared to buckle when he landed after the third-quarter dunk Rivers mentioned. He eventually rose to his feet and walked slowly off the court alongside Sixers head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson.
Before the injury, Embiid had 23 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. It was his first game back after an NBA-mandated quarantine following his exposure to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. Ben Simmons was exposed to the same person and could be cleared to play Sunday vs. the Spurs if he continues to test negative for the coronavirus.
Tobias Harris wouldn’t mind if this situation is similar to an injury scare Embiid had earlier in the year. Embiid appeared to hyperextend his right knee in the second quarter of the Sixers’ Feb. 4 game against the Trail Blazers but was not out for long, recording 31 first-half points.
“When I saw the replay, he just landed in a tough position on his left knee, I believe,” Harris said. “It looked like a hyperextension. That’s what we all hope it is. We’re just praying that he’ll be OK and be healthy tomorrow as he gets the MRI. We know how important Joel is to the team and how much emphasis he put on his health and his body this year, so it’s unfortunate to see that happen. Just really praying that he’ll be all right.”
Seth Curry, meanwhile, was honest in admitting he missed what happened in real time, providing a small dose of levity.
“I didn’t see it at all. I turned around and screamed because it was a monster dunk,” Curry said with a smile. “I (then) turned around and he was on the ground.”
Danny Green thinks the Sixers can cope without Embiid moving forward if that's required. Though it’s far from the most important Sixers storyline at the moment, the team played very well in its first two contests after the All-Star break despite receiving just 20 minutes total from Embiid and zero from Simmons. Friday’s win moved the 26-12 Sixers a game ahead of the second-place Nets in the Eastern Conference standings.
“Obviously we’re keeping him in our thoughts and prayers, hoping that things are OK,” Green said. “But we learned over the past two games, even with Ben out, that we’re capable. We trust the system, play together and we can play at a high level regardless of who’s on the floor. Early in the season, we didn’t have that type of character, we didn’t have that type of belief. One of our guys sat out, it was a game that we lost. Tonight … I think guys were believing in each other, believing in ourselves. It starts with that first, that we can get wins regardless of who’s on the floor.
“We’re trusting it, sharing the ball and making some things happen. Defensively, we’re playing at a pretty good level. … We’ve shown we’re capable of doing it and we’ve got to continue to do it, because we know we’re going to have some injuries and there are going to be some COVID issues. The second half of the season is going to be even tougher, so we’ve got to continue to play the way we did the first two games of the second half.”