No plans to shut down Embiid: ‘He’s battling’

NBA

NEW YORK — After a second brief injury scare involving superstar center Joel Embiid in just over a week, Philadelphia 76ers coach Nick Nurse said after Saturday night’s 111-104 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in Game 1 of their best-of-7 first round series that there are no plans to shut the league’s reigning MVP down.

“He really is a warrior,” Nurse said of Embiid, “and he’s battling.

“I think he absolutely wants to play.”

Embiid briefly exited the game for the final 2:37 of the first half after a truly remarkable play that saw him throw down a ridiculous one-handed dunk after passing the ball to himself off the backboard.

Embiid, who led all scorers with 18 first half points, was at the free throw line with Knicks center Mitchell Robinson guarding him with 2:37 remaining in the second quarter when he dipped under Robinson, fired the ball off the backboard and, all in one motion, leapt in the air, caught it with his right hand and slammed it through the hoop.

But when Embiid came down, he landed on his left leg and immediately went down to the ground. Play continued, with the Knicks getting a layup at the other end, before Philadelphia could call timeout and take a look at him. After an extended period on the ground, Embiid — who declined to talk to the media after the game — eventually got to his feet and slowly walked off the court and directly back to Philadelphia’s locker room under his own power, where he remained for the rest of the first half.

It was a moment eerily reminiscent of Embiid’s exit from a game eight days ago at home against the Orlando Magic, when he drove to the basket, scored, went down, walked off under his own power and then returned to the floor for the start of the third quarter.

And, like in that game, Embiid returned to the bench just before the start of the second half, and rejoined his teammates on the floor.

“I knew when I went in at half time that they were checking him out,” Nurse said. “And that he was up and moving. And they did say we are seeing. They didn’t rule him out yet. They just took him all the way to the end there to get him ruled back in.”

Embiid finished the game with 29 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in 37 minutes and Philadelphia was plus-14 in his time on the court — meaning the 76ers were outscored by 21 points in the 11 minutes Embiid sat on the bench. However, after Embiid scored 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the first quarter, he had 14 points on 3-for-13 shooting over the final three quarters, including going 2-for-11 in the second half.

In that Orlando game last week, Embiid also struggled after halftime, going for 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting.

This was Embiid’s seventh game since returning to the court after two months following a procedure on his lateral meniscus in his left knee back in early February, including five regular season games and Wednesday’s play-in victory over the Miami Heat.

“Nothing with Joel surprises me now,” said Tyrese Maxey, who led Philadelphia with 33 points. “He’s always a fighter. He’s always gonna try and give it his all for his team. So, if he thinks he can go, he’ll for sure be out there.”

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