Joel Embiid Proves he’s human after all in Heartbreaking Hawks Loss

Sixers C Joel Embiid
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 05: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) looks toward the net during warmups before the Eastern Conference Semifinal Game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on May 05, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Sixers suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Hawks last night by a score of 103-100, as Joel Embiid struggled to carry the weight of the City on some bruised shoulders. Despite leading for most of the game, the Sixers struggled down the stretch and ultimately could not find a way to win. This evened the series at 2-2 and the teams will travel back to Philadelphia as they look to regain control on Wednesday.

The loss proved to be one of the worst games of Joel Embiid’s career and a reminder of just how great he is. Despite ending with 17 points and 21 rebounds, Embiid struggled down the stretch and had an extremely poor offensive performance.

First Half

It was a sloppy start for both teams as the Hawks looked to make a conscious effort to push the pace, but struggled to knock down shots at a reliable rate. Trae Young shot 0-5 from the field and did not register a point in the first quarter before being seen on the sideline with his shoulder wrapped up.

The Sixers also struggled to fully get going on offense with Joel Embiid having just 2 points at the end of the first. Despite the lack of scoring, Embiid was a monster on the defensive end right from the tip. He patrolled the paint, altering several shots, and pulled down 9 rebounds in the first quarter. This is the most amount of rebounds in a quarter by any Sixers player in a playoff game in the play-by-play era.

There was a brief scary moment in which Joel Embiid went back to the locker room for some sort of medical attention early in the second quarter. It was unclear exactly what happened, but the big man rejoined the team shortly after entered the game again with 7:43 left to play left in the quarter. The Sixers outscored the Hawks 22-10 after his return.

The Sixers found their stride in the second quarter and ultimately secured a 62-49 lead at the half. Ben Simmons was terrific in the first half and ended with 8 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers. Tobias Harris led the team in scoring with 14 points with Joel Embiid and Seth Curry right behind them at 13 a piece.

The ball movement was extremely impressive from the Sixers in the first half which led to 16 total assists. This was successful in creating open jumpers and contributed to the 7-11 that the Sixers shot from beyond the arc. The Hawks continue to have no answer defensively as they are getting posted up under the basket by Simmons and Embiid and did not rotate quickly enough on the perimeter.

The biggest gap between the two teams continued to be the shooting splits. The Hawks are heavily reliant on scoring from the perimeter but shot just 29.4% from beyond and just 33.3% from the field. In contrast, the Sixers knocked down threes at a 63.6% rate and shot 52.1% from the field. Even with the sloppy start, the Sixers were able to notch a 13-point lead heading into the half.

Second Half

The Hawks showed some fight to start the quarter led by three put-back dunks from John Collins. The Hawks forward ultimately ended the game with 14 points and 12 rebounds and the third quarter ended with the Sixers holding just an 82-80 lead at the end of the third quarter. Even a hard foul from Ben Simmons was not enough to contain the Hawks momentum and what once looked to have the makings of a blowout turned into a dogfight to the end.

Joel Embiid continued to be tossed around and roughed up on multiple plays in the heart of the third stanza. For the first time in the series, the pain and physicality seemed to be catching up to him and he shot 0-7 from the field in the third quarter. The Hawks shifted the momentum completely headed into the fourth and they picked up their first lead since the score was 12-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Shake Milton continued to show signs of coming back to form and led the Sixers on a run where he scored 8 straight points himself. This was successful in keeping the team alive until Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were able to come back on the floor to finish the game.

Joel Embiid struggled greatly throughout the remainder of the game and shot 0-12 from field in the second half. While he continued to be impactful on the defensive end and finished with 21 total rebounds, Embiid’s offensive game was just about nonexistent in the second half and forced the Sixers offense to stagnate.

With Embiid struggling, no there Sixers was able to step up and the game ended with Tobias Harris as the team’s leading scorer with 20 points. As a team the Sixers only scored 38 points in the second half. They allowed what was once an 18-point lead to slip away and ultimately lost by a score fo 103-100.

Despite their poor play, the Sixers were still in it at the end and even had a chance to win it at the end as they were down 101-100 with the ball in their possession and 16.6 seconds to play. After a well executed pick-and-roll with Tobias Harris, Embiid was freed up for a good look around the rim but was unable to convert. Doc Rivers stood by the decision postgame and said he believes in the philosophy to ride with his guys even when they are struggling.

Trae Young bounced back in the second half and ultimately ended with 25 points and 18 assists. Following the miss by Embiid, Young was fouled and knocked down 2 free throws to put the Hawks up by 3. A last second three-pointer by Seth Curry rimmed out and the Sixers suffered the loss to tie the series up at 2.

Overall Thoughts:

Glass Half-Full Outlook:

This was arguably the worst game of Joel Embiid’s career as he shot 4-20 from the field and never was able to find his rhythm. In the second half alone, Embiid shot 0-12 from the field and the Sixers were outscored by 16 points while he was on the court. This is extremely rare for Joel Embiid and even with these struggles the Sixers were still in the game at the end.

The Sixers scored just 38 points in the second half, turned the ball over 8 more times than the Hawks did, and still almost found a way to win. Game five will take place back in Philadelphia on Wednesday and a win there will give them control of the series once again. This was a heartbreaking loss and incredibly frustrating game, but the fact that they played so poorly and still stayed in the game is relevant to not.

Glass Half-Empty Outlook:

It has been seen throughout the series, but Embiid certainly seemed to be grabbing at his knee a little extra tonight. There has been no information released on why the Sixers star was forced to go the training room tonight, but any new damage to the knee would be extremely concerning. The Sixers ceiling almost entirely relies on his 7-foot shoulders as they need him to continue to progress throughout the postseason.

Assuming Embiid is healthy and able to continue playing, this type of effort will result in the Sixers getting bounced easily by a better team. If they were able to secure a win in last night’s game, they would hold a 3-1 lead and have some breathing room on the series. Now they are in a 2-2 fight against a Hawks team that they are better than. Given the health concerns to Embiid, any extra wear and tear on his body is extremely concerning and forcing him to play extra games is detrimental to the team. Losing a game that you once led by 18 points is unacceptable and The Sixers have some things to figure out ahead of the next matchup.

Look for the Sixers to prove to be the real contenders that they claim to be in game five. A solid response for the team will go a long way in regaining confidence for the team. Winning two out of the next three games is certainly attainable and the Sixers need to put this game behind them and move on.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire