The Philadelphia 76ers dropped Game 1 of their series with the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday afternoon, 128-124, but that might not have been the most important outcome of the contest. Sure, the Sixers would have loved to win, but the fact that Joel Embiid was able to play and look like his usual dominant self was the most important takeaway from the game for Philadelphia.
After suffering a minor meniscus tear against the Washington Wizards in the first round, Embiid was considered questionable heading into the series against Atlanta, and it wasn’t too long before tipoff that it was even announced that he’d be playing. Once the action started though, you wouldn’t have even known that Embiid was injured.
The Sixers star center played 38 minutes in Game 1 — more than anyone else on either team. He also led the game in scoring with 39 points. Plus, he shot 57 from the floor, grabbed nine rebounds, tallied four assists and blocked three shots. If the knee was bothering Embiid out on the floor you certainly couldn’t tell. By the end of the game, he was giving up his body and diving on the floor to make plays for Philadelphia.
After the game, Embiid said that his knee felt “alright,” and he made it clear that he plans to try to plan through the pain in order to try to achieve his goal of winning a title for Philadelphia.
“Playing on a torn meniscus is not easy,” Embiid said. “All I can do is keep managing it. Do my best, get as much treatment as I can. Try to manage it to make sure it doesn’t swell up too much. Obviously, the pain is going to be there. That’s normal. But it’s all about managing it and doing whatever it takes to win. My goal is to win a championship and I’m going to put my body on the line to make sure that happens. I’m going to give everything I got.”
In that same vein, Embiid doesn’t plan to worry about how many minutes he plays against Atlanta, as evidenced by the fact that he played more minutes than anyone else in Game 1.
“It’s the playoffs. You can’t worry about how many minutes someone is supposed to play, or he’s gonna play, you got to go with your best guys,” Embiid said. As long as I’m okay to be out there, I’m gonna give my best, and I’m gonna keep pushing until I can’t.
“As long as I’m out there I’m going to play hard. I’m going to dive for loose balls. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”
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Embiid looked about as good as anyone could have hoped in Game 1 given the injury issue and the time off leading into the series. But while some might not have expected such a productive performance from the big man, Embiid wasn’t surprised by his own play.
“If you look at the history, every time I’ve had an injury I always feel like I never miss a beat,” Embiid said. “Just because when I go out there I’m not thinking about what happened or what might be going on. It may be bothering me, but I’m just not thinking about it. I just want to focus on giving my all, just playing hard every single possession. Just giving everything I got, and go from there. I put everything in the hands of God… Whatever happens, happens. All I can do is control what I can.”
Moving forward, the Sixers will continue to monitor Embiid’s knee. There will obviously be a lot of interest in how it responds to nearly 40 minutes of high-intensity playoff action, and he will be on the receiving end of near-around-the-clock treatment between games. As long as he is healthy enough to play nearly as long — and as hard — as he did on Sunday, the Sixers should have an excellent opportunity to win the series against Atlanta, even though it didn’t work out that way in Game 1.