Joel Embiid has been hitting the hardwood frequently in recent days for the Sixers. The All-Star center did it again Wednesday night, and his fall in the third quarter of a 107-106 win over the Lakers was especially jarring.
He began to stretch upward, ready to throw down an emphatic dunk, then lost his balance as LeBron James made contact with his chest. Embiid pounded his fist into the ground several times, surrounded by concerned teammates, before eventually rising to his feet.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers went out of his way to indicate he saw nothing untoward in James’ actions.
“I think he’s fine, but that was a hard fall,” Rivers said. “First of all, LeBron’s not a dirty player. It was just a physical play and they had to call the flagrant, I guess. … But that fall was hard and there was some concern there, for sure. The fact that Joel kept going, clearly he wasn’t the same after that as far as his movement. And we kind of knew that and we used him a lot in pick-and-rolls because of that.”
Embiid, on the other hand, thought the play warranted an ejection instead of the Flagrant 1 foul James was assessed. Embiid himself picked up a Flagrant 1 about a minute later for hitting Anthony Davis in the face as he tried a rip-through move on a drive from the top of the key.
“You look at that, that’s a very dangerous play,” Embiid said. “I guarantee you if it was me, I would’ve probably been ejected from the game, which has happened in the past with me getting flagrant fouls, really for nothing.
"When you compare that to the one that I got … I thought I didn’t hit him, I didn’t elbow him. I might’ve touched him, but I don’t think it deserved a flagrant. If you’re going to compare those two, those are tough plays and I just thought it should’ve been a Flagrant 2 (on James).”
With the Sixers’ next game Friday against the Timberwolves, Embiid wasn’t ready to say anything definitive about his back. He’s missed three games this season because of back tightness, including the Sixers’ loss Monday to the Pistons. The Sixers are 13-2 when he plays, 0-4 when he doesn’t.
“Hopefully, it’s fine,” he said. “The test will be when I wake up in the morning. I’ll see how it feels. But I’m glad I pushed through and I’m glad we got the win.”
Though Embiid didn’t have much trouble scoring against familiar foe Marc Gasol, he was unimpressed by his 28-point, six-rebound performance, saying he “didn’t play well at all.”
He was, however, pleased that Tobias Harris’ go-ahead jumper with 2.4 seconds remaining meant the Sixers didn’t spoil the night by blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead.
“It’s huge,” he said. “You’ve got the team with the best record in the league and the defending champs —and also undefeated on the road — you’ve got them coming into your building. You want to win those types of games. I just think we did a great job. We had a few lapses, especially in the fourth, when we were up big and we made a couple mistakes. But those wins are great and it’s going to give us a lot of confidence for the next couple games.”