Joel Embiid went to the locker room after his first stint of the game Monday night.
A collective sigh of relief could be felt when he returned to the game a few minutes later, appearing no worse for the wear.
Then, a couple possessions later, the ring finger on Embiid's left finger was noticeably not where it should be after jostling with Steven Adams for a rebound. You could hear the crowd audibly gasp as head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson ran out to cover Embiid's hand with a towel.
It was gruesome.
"I nearly threw up when I saw that, but I'm glad he came back out," Ben Simmons said. "We needed him. He's a big part of this team. We were glad to have him back out there."
The Sixers' All-Star center gutted it out and helped his team snap a four-game losing streak with a 120-113 win over the Thunder at the Wells Fargo Center Monday night (see observations).
As Embiid was heading toward the sideline, you could see Simmons, Josh Richardson and Mike Scott react with concern - and disgust.
Ben Simmons when he saw Jo's finger: "I nearly threw up when I saw that, but I'm glad he came back out. We needed him." pic.twitter.com/TiiyY1j8ar
— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) January 7, 2020
"It looked crazy," Richardson said. "I commend him, first of all, for coming back - it's not easy coming back from what happened. He said it was bothering him. It takes a lot of toughness to come back and play through it."
Embiid was officially diagnosed with a dislocated finger. He had X-rays taken on the hand when he initially went to the locker room early in the game, but the results were negative. The finger was snapped back into place and taped, allowing Embiid to come back for the start of the second quarter.
Make no mistake: Embiid was in pain. Just simply snapping a dislocated finger back into place doesn't heal it. It affected Embiid throughout the rest of the game, but he felt a responsibility to help his team in any way he could.
"It was pretty bad. I was basically playing with one hand," Embiid said. "It's pretty bad, but in the midst of the losing streak I just wanted to make sure that I do everything possible to try to get us a win, and I'm glad we got the win."
Embiid said that the injury mostly affected him on the offensive end and his ability to rebound. Though he didn't have his most efficient night from the field (7 of 17), Embiid managed to pull down nine rebounds.
Since he was having issues using his left hand and it was affecting his ability to score, Embiid became a more of a playmaker. He recorded a season-high eight assists and turned the ball over just twice. His biggest assist came on a Tobias Harris corner three which put the Sixers up 115-106 with 55.4 seconds left to essentially seal the game.
Even when Embiid is hurting, he draws attention and he used that to his advantage Monday.
Yeah, my mindset basically after that, not being able to really do anything offensively besides basically holding the ball was to contribute in some other ways - setting screens and passing the ball. The situations I was in allowed me to be a playmaker and not a scorer, so I just rolled with that and I'm glad we got the win.
The word "maturity" has come up an awful lot this season when it comes to Embiid. The 25-year-old is looked to as a leader on this team - even to 33-year-old Al Horford. This was a moment where his leadership showed.
With his team in the midst of a losing streak, desperately looking for a win, Embiid did what he had to do.
"I thought he was done for the game," Brett Brown said. "As far as, what does it mean going forward, I don't know that. But what I do know is that is a tough return to the court. That is a competitive statement, and I appreciate him. I respect that. We needed to play well here at home. We haven't been on the right side of the win/loss column lately and I respect his motives to come back."
Embiid said he isn't sure what the long-term ramifications of him playing will be, but he wasn't worried about that.
"Consequences, you assume them later," he said. "But like you said, as the leader you want to go out and show your teammates that you want to win, and you're going to do everything possible to do so."
If the medical staff will let him, he's going to play Thursday night against the rival Celtics.
"I want to play - it's a big game," Embiid said. "Last time we played them we had great success. But then again, whatever they want me to do - obviously I try to fight it - but I know they care about me, so whatever they want me to do, I guess. We'll see."
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