Injured 76ers star Embiid has strong game - Hawks still win

Hawks forward John Collins and Sixers center Joel Embiid battle for a rebound under the basket during Sunday's Eastern Conference semifinal matchup in Philadelphia.
Hawks forward John Collins and Sixers center Joel Embiid battle for a rebound under the basket during Sunday's Eastern Conference semifinal matchup in Philadelphia.

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So much for an injured Joel Embiid.

Despite being a game-time decision due to a slight tear of the meniscus in his right knee, the 76ers center had 39 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 38 minutes. It wasn’t enough.

The Hawks lead by as many as 26 points and held off a furious 76ers comeback to capture Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series, 128-124, in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Embiid acknowledged that it’s “not easy” to play with a torn meniscus.

“If you look at my history, every time I’ve had an injury, it always feels like I never miss a beat just because when I got out there I’m not thinking about what happened or what may be going on. I just want to focus on giving my all and go from there.”

It’s the entire 76ers team that is left licking their collective wounds after the Hawks took the opener in the best-of-seven series over the No. 1 seed.

Embiid’s effort wasn’t without some scary moments. That was highlighted with a dive to try to stop John Collins on a fast break with the 76ers in full-out trap and scramble mode to force turnovers, of which they were very successful in the closing minutes. However, Collins was awarded a clear-path foul after Embiid’s dive. With the Hawks clinging to a three-point lead with 23 seconds left, Collins converted the two free throws and an alley-oop pass from Trae Young on the ensuing possession. The Hawks had a seven-point lead, 125-118.

Embiid was injured in Game 4 of the 76ers’ first-round series against the Wizards. He missed the closeout win in Game 5. Little information was available on Embiid’s status for the series opener against the Hawks as he was deemed day-to-day. 76ers coach Doc Rivers didn’t tip is hand before the game. However, when Embiid came out with professional wrestler Triple H before the game to ring bell and pump up the home crowd, well, you knew he wouldn’t be sitting this one out.

“I checked with him probably five different times during the game and he kept saying he felt great,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said.

Added Tobias Harris: “He looked really good getting to his spots and just being a force for us. Obviously, we want him to be as healthy as possible. He’s battling injury but he played his tail off for sure.”

Rivers said he told Embiid to stay clear of most of the trapping and scrambling late in the game as the 76ers were on their comeback. The coach said he was fearful as such aggressive play is often responsible for injury. The 76ers outscored the Hawks 41-29 in the fourth quarter and got as close as two points with 10 seconds left.

Embiid played 20:09 in the second half, including 11:46 (all but 14 seconds) of the third quarter.

With Game 2 on Tuesday, there isn’t a lot of time for recovery. Embiid said he will get different treatments and rest between games. He expects to deal with pain.

That’s some good news for the 76ers. They got a monster performance out of their All-Star center despite his injury.

That’s some good news for the Hawks, as well. Consider they were routing the 76ers at home and managed to win while Embiid had a strong game. The Hawkswere given little chance in the series should Embiid be able to play. The Hawks were up by 20 points with just under 11 minutes left in the second quarter. There will be film work and adjustments to make after they early lost the huge advantage. The Hawks are now 5-1 in the playoffs with one impressive performance after another.

“I thought they hit us in the mouth to start the game,” Rivers said. “I thought they were the more physical team. They were the more aggressive team. They played harder early. And they took care of the ball early. We didn’t. You can’t have nine turnovers to start the first quarter and expect to be up.”

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