Joel Embiid’s stellar return gives 76ers hope in a suddenly vulnerable Eastern Conference playoff field


With around seven minutes remaining in Joel Embiid’s return to the floor Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the reigning MVP had a subtle yet significant moment of confusion. After catching a pass from Tobias Harris at the top of the key, he turned around and held the ball out seemingly expecting to execute one of the dribble handoffs that made his partnership with Tyrese Maxey so deadly early in the season.

Of course, Maxey missed Tuesday’s game. Aside from Harris, Embiid shared the floor with Kelly Oubre Jr., who he has played a total of 27 games with, Nic Batum, who he has played 24 games with, and Kyle Lowry, who played his first game alongside Embiid on Tuesday. With no handoff available, Embiid passed it inside to Harris, who was blocked in traffic by Lu Dort.

The play was a reminder of the steep learning curve these 76ers are facing. This is not a readymade contender that had simply spent the past two months awaiting its final piece. No, the 76ers are a mishmash of several different iterations of their own team attempting to forge a new identity in the few days that remain between now and the postseason. There will be successes. Lowry, who has worked with plenty of centers that excel in the mid-range, looked comfortable making pocket passes to Embiid right away. Buddy Hield eagerly improvised with Embiid on the handoff game as well. But moments of confusion like the one above are unavoidable under these circumstances. The 76ers are very much still figuring out what exactly they have.

That would be a death sentence for a lot of teams. It doesn’t need to be for Philadelphia because of what came next. Embiid, playing on a minutes-restriction he’d already exceeded, took a rest soon after this moment. He returned with 4:15 remaining on the clock, already exhausted and dealing with a knee injury he would later describe as “probably the hardest by far” of his career. From that moment forward, he outscored the Thunder 8-5 to lead the 76ers to an improbable 109-105 victory in a game they trailed by as many as 13 points.

He did most of…

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Author : Sam Quinn

Publish date : 2024-04-03 03:03:11

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