Embiid’s injury appears more serious than Grade 1 sprain

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid reacts after being hurt during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

On Saturday, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said in his press conference that there was “nothing new” with Joel Embiid’s condition and that he’d likely be “doubtful” for at least Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The star center suffered what was thought of as a Grade 1 LCL sprain in his right knee during Game 3 of the first round, missing Game 4 when the Sixers swept the Brooklyn Nets as a result. The Sixers got an extra few days of rest with Boston’s series against the Atlanta Hawks going to six games, meaning by the time the second round starts, it’ll have been a full ten days since Embiid has seen a basketball court. Still, it seems the MVP finalist will be ill-prepared to take the court in the opening game of the series.

What is more concerning is the recent report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania came out and stated that the Sixers’ star is dealing with an even more severe injury than a Grade 1 sprain, which could explain the mystery around Embiid’s Game 1 availability.

The news does little favor for the Sixers’ chances, at least in the first game or two of the series. Their playoff struggles, both against Boston and in the second round in general, are well-known. Add in James Harden’s lackluster performance 

Still, there’s optimism that this iteration of the Sixers can overcome the odds stacked against them. Their defense is much stronger than in prior years, as evidenced by the Nets averaging just 92.5 points per game in the series.

Primary backup center Paul Reed isn’t just a serviceable starter in Embiid’s absence – he’s a legitimate rim protector with uncanny shot-blocking and rebounding abilities for a bench player. PJ Tucker is doing exactly what we asked him to do when we signed him – providing nightmarish on-ball defense to opponents’ primary ball handlers to break a screen.

Even players like Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey have had some strong defensive outings, especially in Round 1, while the latter has simultaneously become a deep shooting threat. 

There’s also some hope that Rivers is being extremely conservative, overplaying Embiid’s injury to get him back to 100% or even throwing off Boston’s game plan. While the latter is unlikely, given the Sixers’ history of losses while Embiid plays hurt, it’s not impossible the team could be prioritizing his recovery to get him as healed as possible before he sees the court.

The Sixers’ odds currently sit at +330 for Game 1 and +290 for the series. Round 2 kicks off in Boston on Monday night at 7:30 pm EST.