Embiid to have surgery, out at least 1-2 weeks
Jan 8, 2020
  • Tim BontempsESPN

PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid is having surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament in the ring finger of his left hand Friday morning, the team said Thursday night.

Embiid met with a hand specialist before Thursday night’s game against the Boston Celtics at Wells Fargo Center, where the determination for him to have surgery was made.

He will be re-evaluated in one-to-two weeks.

“He’s competitive,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said Thursday, when asked how Embiid’s mood was in the wake of the injury. “He’s competitive.

“He would be as you’d expect him to be.”

Embiid’s status had been in limbo since he suffered a gruesome dislocation of that finger late in the first quarter of Philadelphia’s 120-113 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder here Monday. While Embiid was quickly able to return to that game, playing 32 minutes and finishing with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, he spent time afterward being evaluated by doctors and said in his postgame press conference that he’d torn a ligament.

“They’re figuring out what’s next,” Embiid said of the doctors Monday night.

It turned out that surgery was what they decided the next step was for the superstar center. Now the focus will shift to how long he will be out. Embiid didn’t practice either Tuesday or Wednesday, as he spent those days meeting with specialists about his finger, and the team said he will continue to consult with doctors to determine what the next steps will be.

The Sixers will have to adjust to life without their All-NBA center. That is, unfortunately for them, something they’ve had to do time and again over the course of his NBA career. According to ESPN’s Stats and Information Group, Embiid has played in 189 of the 448 regular season games the Sixers have played during his five-plus years in the NBA.

But that doesn’t make dealing with the absence of one of the league’s best players any easier to deal with.

“Everybody sitting in front of me would understand what do you miss on defense in what you used to have in a 7-foot-2 All-NBA defender, and now you don’t,” Brown said. “Then you get into offense and you’ve got an all-league player that’s sort of your focal point to your offense, you don’t have him, what does that mean? Pace of game, focal points, call of plays, so where do I begin? It’s massive. I think if you looked at sort of the results we’ve had without Joel, we have lots of room to grow.”

Embiid’s absence shines a spotlight on Al Horford — the man the Sixers targeted in free agency this summer for just these types of situations. Not only was Horford outstanding defensively against Embiid the past three seasons, and by signing him removed him from the roster of a forever rival, but Horford’s presence also allowed Philadelphia to erase its biggest weakness last season: how they played when Embiid was on the bench.

The Sixers were outscored by 153 points last season when Embiid was not on the court, while outscoring teams by 373 when he played. This year, the success with Embiid on the court is still there, as Philadelphia is outscoring opponents by 113 points so far when he plays.

But when he sits? The Sixers are still a plus-13 for the year, which is a credit to having Horford manning the pivot in the vast majority of the time Embiid has sat.

Still, Brown admitted that trying to do the same things with Horford that he’s done with Embiid doesn’t make sense.

“All of a sudden, we’re different,” Brown said. “We’re just different.

“I’m looking at this as an opportunity. Nobody is crying. This is not a woe is me moment. Not for me, at all, and not for our players. We will take what we have, and what we have, I love. It’s just different than it used to be.”

In some senses, the differences are obvious. When Brown was asked if he’s going to have his team play faster without Embiid, he shot back at the reporter who asked, “What would you do?” with a big grin on his face. He then added, “We’re gonna walk it up and just try to post [6-foot tall guard] Trey [Burke].”

The changes will go far beyond that, though. Embiid is one of the most dominant defensive players in the NBA. And while Horford has long held a reputation as a strong defensive center, his skills couldn’t be more different than the ones Embiid possesses.

Brown has said recently that the Sixers have begun to shift their defensive coverages when Horford is playing center, now that they are getting a sense for how his game fits with what they are trying to do. Those changes will only be sped up now that he’ll be back to playing center full-time again.

“I’m putting a blowtorch, a bullet, many bullets, into what we used to do,” Brown said of his defensive coverages. “It doesn’t fit, so shame on me to make it fit. We don’t have Joel Embiid. So when I say blowtorch and bullet, I mean it. It doesn’t mean we have to completely pivot out to wild stuff that could be reckless. I don’t think so. I think it’s just taking sort of the house we’ve lived in and moving the furniture around a little bit. And that’s what I intend to do.”

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