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Joel Embiid’s masked return is all about just being there for Sixers – NBC10 Philadelphia

The most important part of Embiid’s masked return? It was about being there originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The most important part of Joel Embiid’s Friday night is that he walked the floor of the Wells Fargo Center.

When he did, a series flipped all about his absence. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers used the word “attendance” six times in his post-game media availability.

Any inclination to romanticize Embiid’s return for that Sixers’ Game 3 wins via heat is fair enough. The list of injuries jumps off the page – a concussion and fracture of the right eye socket eight days ago, plus a torn ligament in his right thumb. And even if he weren’t 7ft tall and an MVP finalist for a second straight season, all eyes would have been on the player Warm-up sweater with a black protective mask on the face.

Breaking his pre-game routine at the foul line, Embiid removed his mask and asked for a towel to wipe his face. Sixers staff made sure he had a towel nearby whenever play was stopped; The ball people stationed at the baseline, who normally focus on cleaning up wet patches on the court, had a new job.

When he’s healthy and in top form, the NBA’s top scorer flirts with a sense of invincibility. Sometimes he really was bigger and better than everyone else. He can do more than a little bit of everything.

Even with the unwieldy extra gear and minimal time on court over the past week, Embiid projected no vulnerability in a performance of 18 points and 11 rebounds. Bottom line, he was there. And his teammates loved it.

“I was so happy to see ’21’ hanging in the dressing room with his mask on,” said Tyrese Maxey after exploding with an incredible 21 points in the second half. “He’s a soldier, man. He’s a soldier. Thumb, mask, concussion, broken face – now makes him look even uglier. But no, he’s resilient, man. He’s the MVP for a reason. Just the attention he demands is great for us. It is just a testament to his will and will to win.”

Embiid played most of the first quarter and was eliminated with the Sixers by eight points. River’s emphasis on his presence was not exaggerated. The crux of Miami’s defensive game plan in the opening minutes seemed to be to limit Embiid’s catches and have backup defenders ready to attack at any time and from any location. Early attacks were a solid counter – sealing defenders in color; Flashing Dewayne Dedmon with far superior agility on a few quick breaks; Launch attack from the tip of the key.

And what mattered in the end was that DeAndre Jordan spent the evening on the bench. Rivers employed Paul Reed as Embiid’s backup, and the Sixers’ defensive options expanded into another universe with 48-minute centers not playing a rigged carnival game when asked to do anything other than deep-drop coverage on pick-and-rolls to do.

Embiid said he was dealing with “a number of symptoms” of his concussion, but he followed suit when the Sixers lost the first two games of the series in Miami.

“It was very annoying,” he said. “Of course we didn’t take any shots, but we also made a lot of mistakes … it was offensive rebounds, turnovers. Their big guy, Bam (Adebayo), was dominating and I was really pissed to see another big man playing well against my team. It’s unfortunate. We can’t take it back, so we just have to focus on the next game.”

Though Embiid was technically doubtful until about 40 minutes before the tip, it always seemed likely he would play once he cleared the NBA’s concussion record.

Nicknamed Lastmanagement “BS,” he often expressed frustration at the Sixers’ caution early in his career. When the team lost Game 2 of their first-round series to Miami four years ago, Embiid was impatient to return, wanting to put on his mask and get dressed a few weeks after breaking a left eye socket and suffering a concussion. He posted on Instagram that he was “sick and tired of being babies,” and then got the green light for the rest of this postseason.

Embiid was proud to play a career-high 68 games this season, including 59 from 63, after being eliminated with a in November severe COVID-19 case.

Maxey appreciated Embiid’s availability on Friday, but he also worried about him as a person.

“I just asked him a couple of times, ‘Are you okay?’ Do you promise you’re good?’ Ultimately, basketball is extremely important to all of us,” Maxey said. “That is our task. But you want someone to be the best they can feel about life in general.

“I didn’t want him to be in pain or anything so I just checked on him to see if he was okay. But like I said, he’s a soldier. How many minutes did he play? Thirty-six minutes. I thought that was tremendous for us.”

Again, it would be appropriate to rave about Embiid’s toughness, highlighting the last three games as compelling proof of his worth as an MVP – no stats needed. For what it’s worth, the Sixers’ on/off net rating split with Embiid this year was up -11.3 per cleaning the glass. That’s even the second lowest grade of his career.

But with white tape around the index and middle fingers on his left hand on the podium at the post-match press conference, Embiid was not inclined to think so.

“When I’m dealing with things like that, I just take it for what it is,” he said. “It happens. I just have to move on. It’s unfortunate. I’ve been busy with a lot of things but my thoughts are always about staying positive and coming back from whatever’s going on and doing whatever is possible is. … I think it’s more my motivation to try to win – to try to win the whole thing. That motivates me.”

https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/sports/sixers/joel-embiids-masked-return-all-about-simply-being-there-for-sixers/3231560/ Joel Embiid’s masked return is all about just being there for Sixers – NBC10 Philadelphia

Sarah Y. Kim

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