November 23, 2016
About a half hour later, Joel Embiid was able to find gallows humor in the conclusion of a game that began with promise and ended with cruelty.
The seven-foot center and early shoo-in for NBA Rookie of the Year honors is being carefully coddled after missing back-to-back seasons with foot injuries. It was announced before Wednesday night’s game against Memphis that Embiid would continue on his 24-minute restriction and also sit out the entirety of Friday night’s game against Chicago.
But then the game played out and the Sixers took Memphis, winners of five straight to double overtime. And just like the too much sun cost Frosty the Snowman a full day of fun, Embiid’s minutes restriction kept him on the bench for the second overtime in the Sixers 104-99 defeat.
“It was frustrating, but those guys, they care about me and they’re looking out for me,” Embiid said, before offering a shy smile. “I’ve got to trust the process.”
Embiid could joke around because there was nothing else to do. When he found out he wasn’t going to be able to play in the second overtime, after talking his way into the first and a season-high 27 minutes and 10 seconds total, Embiid took out his anger on a defenseless chair.
How mad is Embiid that he can't play in the 2nd OT???? Ummm...yeah... pic.twitter.com/kVqxiXh7mK— Marshall Harris (@mharrisCSN) November 24, 2016
“I respect that, very much I respect it,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “You see how much he wants to help us try to win, how competitive he is. That’s a hard life to live, isn’t it, from everybody’s perspective - coaches, teammates, Joel, fans. But it’s just the way it is.”
Embiid finished the game – or the first four quarters and the first overtime – with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocked shots. It was his third double-double in his last five games.
With the Sixers down a point in the final minute of regulation, Embiid used all of his seven-foot frame to steal the ball out of Memphis point guard Mike Conley’s grip, leading to a fast break that ended with Robert Covington sinking one free throw to tie the game and force overtime.
Embiid played in the first extra period, despite reaching his 24-minute total.
“A little bit of wiggle room from time to time,” Brown said.
Would his presence in the second overtime have been the difference, and a chance to give the Sixers their first three-game winning streak in nearly three years?
“Yes,” Brown said convincingly.
But there are no exceptions on his minutes restriction?
“None,” Brown said, just as convincingly.
Again, Embiid was able to put a positive spin on a loss that left many of the 15,880 at the Wells Fargo Center sour as they found the exits before the final buzzer sounded Wednesday night.
“First of all I really didn’t think we should have needed overtime,” Embiid said. “We had the lead at the start of the fourth quarter. We have to finish those games. … But (Memphis) played really well.”
He let the frustration get to him briefly. Then he watched the game’s final five minutes from the bench.
“It’s hard,” Embiid said. “We’ve been winning, four straight at home, the last two (overall). It’s hard. For me, the way I was thinking, I’m not playing against Chicago so I’ll basically get 3-4 days to rest, so that’s what I thought. But like I said, they care about me and they’re going to do whatever they can to protect me.”
It was just as difficult for Brown, seeing a win within reach and an impactful player like Embiid blossoming into a difference maker already in his first month in the NBA.
“There it is, on your bench, 10 feet from me. It’s very tempting,” Brown said. “But you can’t do it. It’s a bigger world that we're living in, it’s a far greater vision, a much longer vision that we see. So really, games like tonight, as much as it stings, and as much as he was close by, and was playing at the level that we saw, it was just not wise to do it. And that’s the discipline we have to have.”
Embiid will sit out Friday night’s game at home against Chicago and then return to the starting lineup on Sunday (also at home) against LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The minutes restriction is expected to continue for the next month. But by January, Embiid could be unleashed for regular, active duty.
“It’ll feel good,” Embiid said. “The minute restrictions I think are messing up my rhythm, too. I think when those minute restrictions are off I think I’ll have a better rhythm and a better understanding of the game. I can’t wait for that day to come.”