Most of us have by no means had a torn meniscus, a lot much less tried to play basketball on it, a lot much less carried the playoff hopes of an NBA franchise on it. You’ll be able to think about it doesn’t really feel nice, notably when these knees assist all 7 toes, 280 kilos of Joel Embiid for 35 minutes towards a tough-as-nails Atlanta Hawks group in a recreation that the Philadelphia 76ers completely needed to have.
However to any extent Embiid is feeling the ache this postseason, nevertheless a lot ice he has to make use of, no matter remedy he must deploy to get on the ground, it’s clear the 76ers don’t have any different choice. There may be Embiid, or there’s elimination.
It has been tough to inform how a lot (if in any respect) Embiid has been bothered by that knee within the first two video games of the Japanese Convention semifinals towards the upstart Hawks. In a season-saving 118-102 win that evened the collection at 1-1, Embiid had arguably one of the best playoff efficiency of his profession with 40 factors and 13 rebounds and impacted the sport defensively in myriad methods, together with a couple of possessions the place he contained Hawks star Trae Younger on perimeter switches.
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In different phrases, if the Hawks had been relying on one thing lower than a 100% Embiid to offer them an edge on this collection, they had been sorely mistaken. And if the 76ers have aspirations of holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy in July, they’ll want no matter is left of that meniscus to hold on for expensive life by means of the trials of no less than 11 extra video games and certain many greater than that.
“I need to win all of it,” Embiid stated, which is each an apparent sentiment in the midst of a playoff run and an evidence for why he’s gutting this out regardless of an harm that usually requires surgical procedure or knocks gamers out for weeks.
However no matter how he was feeling, Embiid had every part working in Sport 2: The fadeaway jumpers, the step-throughs, the hesitation strikes that result in simple dunks. He made 13-of-25 discipline objectives and fully neutralized Hawks heart Clint Capela, who has been one of many NBA’s finest publish defenders all season. He made 6-9 rookie Onyeka Okongwu look comically small when he was requested to defend Embiid 1-on-1.
With seemingly minimal effort, Embiid bought wherever he wished on the courtroom. Even on one good knee, he made scoring 40 factors look laughably simple.
“All people within the league wants assist towards Embiid,” Hawks ahead Danilo Gallinari stated of his group’s failures to make him uncomfortable for even a second of this collection.
Regardless of lacking the final recreation of the 76ers’ first-round collection towards the Washington Wizards and being listed on the harm report as questionable for the primary two video games towards the Hawks, Embiid has performed 38 and 35 minutes, respectively, on this collection.
He’s scored one-third of Philadelphia’s factors towards the Hawks. He’s made 26 free throws by himself, whereas the Hawks as a group have made 35. There’s been little proof Atlanta has a lot of a strategy to gradual him down, aside from hoping he misses pictures.
“He mainly simply went right down to his spot and bought deep publish place, and we have now to do a greater job of preventing early to disclaim his catch, in addition to permitting him to get deep publish place,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan stated. “We’ll make some changes to how we’re defending him and among the issues we’re doing to attempt to guard him, however tonight we had been permitting him to mainly simply stroll right down to the publish and arrange.”
Embiid’s Sport 2 efficiency might have been fueled to some extent by ending a distant second to Denver’s Nikola Jokic within the Most Helpful Participant voting — an award Embiid feels he ought to have received.
“There’s just some issues I can management,” he stated. “Clearly as a group we had a very good 12 months and I used to be part of it, however it’s disappointing as a result of as a participant you’re employed laborious for moments like this, however then once more it’s out of my management. Nothing I can do about it, simply have to return out yearly and be prepared and do my job.”
Sixers coach Doc Rivers recalled taking part in for the Spurs towards Houston within the 1995 Western Convention finals when David Robinson received the MVP over Hakeem Olajuwon. The night time the award was introduced, Olajuwon scored 41 factors with 16 rebounds as Houston took a 2-0 lead within the collection.
“You felt like that was Joel tonight,” Rivers stated. “He was that magnificent, that dominant for us early on. He set the tone for us and that’s what he has to do.”
Embiid has to try this and extra for the 76ers, as a result of it’s more and more clear their playoff run could be short-lived if the meniscus bought unhealthy sufficient that he couldn’t play.
Although the Hawks regressed from their gorgeous Sport 1 efficiency, Sport 2 was one other reminder of how harmful they are often and what number of expert gamers they’ve amassed round Younger. Regardless of being down by 16 factors in a matter of minutes, Atlanta was inside two at halftime and briefly took an 80-79 lead late within the third quarter. With out Embiid’s skill to create baskets when the 76ers aren’t actually operating a lot offense, they simply don’t have the firepower to compete with Atlanta over a seven-game collection. That might turn into much more magnified within the subsequent spherical towards an offensive powerhouse just like the Brooklyn Nets.
The underside line for the 76ers is that every part relies on how robust that knee can keep for the times and weeks forward. Up to now, it doesn’t matter what sort of ache Embiid is feeling alongside the best way, it’s nonetheless ok for him to dominate.
Observe Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken.
This text initially appeared on USA TODAY: Sixers will solely go so far as Joel Embiid’s knee can carry them