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May 05, 2022

Joel Embiid still dealing with 'hurdles' as Game 3 looms

Sixers NBA
Joel-Embiid-Sixers-Raptors-NBA-Playoffs.jpg Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid and the Sixers have to head back to Toronto for Game 6 after being up 3-0 in the series.

During the playoffs, you can only trust about 50 percent of what a head coach says for public consumption. NBA teams know more about each other than they probably ever have, but the Sixers don't want to telegraph Joel Embiid's availability for Game 3 anymore than they'd like to tell you how they'll defend a Jimmy Butler pick-and-roll.

So keep that in mind processing Doc Rivers' latest quotes on Joel Embiid's health, delivered to a small group of reporters at the practice facility on Thursday.

"Still has hurdles to get over, so there's no update," Rivers said. "The concussion protocols, he has to get through all of that, and all of the other stuff with the injury."

This follows a declaration from Rivers early in the week that Embiid did "something, but not much" on Monday, noting that Embiid was feeling much better but not enough for him to go too far down the road of optimism.

The early word seems to be that formal news will come down on Embiid around the 5 pm reporting deadline for tomorrow's game when the Sixers will have to give him a designation one way or another. They are not concerned, whether he plays or not, about whether he'll have enough of a ramp-up period before rejoining the team. If he's cleared to play, that's all that really matters.

"This is the playoffs, you don't get time like in the regular season to come back and work out with staff and stuff for three or four days. Unfortunately, that's not how the playoffs are built," Rivers said. "When guys go down in the playoffs, they often have to come back with no work. That makes it very difficult for them when they come back. That doesn't necessarily mean they're going to play great, or sometimes they do, you just don't know."

With or without Embiid, the mood within the team in the aftermath of Game 2 has been relatively positive. After two losses that largely came down to poor shooting (which Miami deserves some credit for facilitating), Sixers players and staffers don't feel as if they've been beaten down or put to rest by a team that has locked up the series.

If anything, they sound a bit more confident following Game 2, having cleaned up some of their issues while continuing to create quality shots. It doesn't necessarily ease the blow of missing those shots, but in the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center, the home team may now see a few more jumpers fall through the nets.

"I would rather not be down 0-2, but should I feel bad? I mean, we lost two games, but you watch the film last night, we played hard, and guys competed," Rivers said Thursday. "We got great shots...I believe in the guys that we play on the floor that we can make them over the long haul. I thought Game 2 we got great shots, didn't like them as much, but Game 2, we had a ton of open shots, ton of open threes. The game, when you look at it, came down to the three-point line."

"We still got really good looks man," James Harden added Wednesday night. "We got to the paint, we got some really good possessions offensively at times, I think we had eight turnovers, that's a really good game. We make shots, it's a different ballgame."

And though the Sixers would obviously rather go to war with their best player than without him, they have said repeatedly over the last week that they are confident and locked in on what they can do as a group regardless.

"I think our guys are just focused on trying to win Game 3. I don't know what they're thinking about, if Joel comes back or not. I think we look at it, if we win Game 3, then the series is as close as you can possibly have it after three games," Rivers said. 

"We are all hopeful he comes back and can play," Tobias Harris added Wednesday, "and we want him to be healthy because we know how good we are with him."

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