Sixers understand reality of life without Embiid following Game 4 injury originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers were 39-12 when Joel Embiid played this regular season and 10-11 without him.
It’s one aspect of why he was named an MVP finalist. Even the most ardent appreciator of Tobias Harris’ clutch scoring or Ben Simmons’ all-around contributions would not dispute that the Sixers are much better when Embiid is available.
He wasn’t for the final three quarters Monday night in the Sixers’ 122-114 Game 4 loss to the Wizards, leaving with right knee soreness. Embiid grimaced after he had a shot blocked by Robin Lopez and hit the ground hard.
Head coach Doc Rivers didn’t have many details to offer on Embiid’s injury.
“You probably know more than I do,” he said after the game.
Rivers expected the Sixers would order medical imaging on Embiid’s knee as a “precautionary” measure, and that they’d have more information Tuesday.
In the big picture, an Eastern Conference title or any other lofty Sixers goals have always realistically included a healthy Embiid.
“I don’t know the details so I can’t really speak on that, but obviously we need Jo to win,” Ben Simmons said. “He’s a big part of this team. If he’s not there next game, we’ve got to close it out. We’ve got what we need. Hopefully he is back.”
Danny Green was on the same page as Simmons.
“Like Ben said, it’s obviously not easy, and we’re going to need him to be the last team standing, to win,” Green said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t win this series or the next game without him — or other games without him. … We’ve had scenarios where we’ve had him gone for a month. Obviously he’s a big part of what we do. He averages 30 and 10. That’s a lot of points and rebounds missing, and a paint protector, shot blocker for us — and a guy that draws double teams to give us open shots.
“But we’ve been in scenarios where we haven’t had him. We’ve got to get back to ourselves, back to our identity and back to that mindset during that time that we didn’t have him — and doing little things. It starts on the defensive end of the floor. … We’ve got to keep teams under 110. It starts with our defensive mindset.”
Dwight Howard, Mike Scott and Simmons were the three Sixers who played at center following Embiid’s exit.
Howard scored a point, grabbed four rebounds and committed four fouls in 13:39. It’s been evident for a long time that the Sixers rarely play well when him and Simmons share the court, which narrows the team's possibilities.
Scott played 16:37 and missed all four of his field-goal attempts, although the Sixers outscored the Wizards by five points in his minutes. Opponents guard him behind the three-point line and he shoots jumpers. It would certainly be a stretch to call him an ideal backup center, though. His season has been sparse on meaningful minutes.
Simmons is undoubtedly the most talented of the Sixers’ non-Embiid center options. It wasn’t surprising that Rivers went with that choice to finish the game. Of course, among the concerns with Simmons at the five are forcing an elite perimeter defender to guard on the interior.
To complicate matters, foul trouble followed Simmons Monday night.
“I think when Jo goes down, we kind of move a little bit in a different direction where we use Ben as the five,” Tobias Harris said. “And he’s a dynamic roller at that position. And then Ben picks up his fourth, fifth fouls, and we’re down Joel and Ben. So then we’re just trying to really kind of go on the fly there. It’s something that obviously you don’t really want to prepare for, but we do have to be better in those moments out there. I have to be better in those moments at evaluating mismatches and where we can generate some flow from.
“I think the biggest (area) where it hurt us was on the defensive end, where we didn’t have those big bodies out there that disrupt other teams’ offensive rhythm. ... We still had an opportunity to close out this game. It didn’t happen, and we move on to where we’re at right now and we get better from it. That’s it.”