76ers center Joel Embiid made progress but his status for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Friday is to be determined, Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said Thursday.
Embiid must clear concussion protocol and awaits full medical clearance to play with a fractured right orbital bone. Rivers said Embiid remains in the NBA’s concussion protocol and has “hurdles to clear” before he gets the green light to join the 76ers on the court. That doesn’t even call into question the health of Embiid’s hand. He finished the first-round series against Toronto with a torn ligament in his thumb.
Miami took a 2-0 series lead, but Heat guard Jimmy Butler said his team wants Embiid in the lineup.
“I want to compete against him. I really do,” Butler said Thursday, adding he expects Embiid to play the rest of the series. “I think they are a completely different team whenever he is out there both offensively and defensively, and so we’re looking forward to that.”
Rivers said the team is positive entering Game 3 with or without Embiid after a team film session highlighting the good looks at the basket that just didn’t go in at Miami. Embiid, Rivers said, should be able to hit the ground running when he is available.
“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.”
Embiid’s head injuries resulted from a play with 3:58 left in the Sixers’ clinching Game 6 against the Raptors on April 28. Philadelphia led 119-90 when Toronto’s Pascal Siakam caught Embiid in the face with an elbow on a drive to the basket.
A five-time All-Star, Embiid has experienced a similar facial injury. In 2018, he fractured his left orbital bone and was sidelined for three weeks before returning to action in the playoffs, wearing a facemask.
Rivers emphasized Thursday that a win for Philadelphia on Friday brings the series as close as it could possibly be after three games. Erik Spoelstra said the Heat have to prepare as if Embiid is coming back.
“It changes dramatically. You’re talking about MVP talent,” Spoelstra said. “So we’ll just have to see. We knew this series was going to shift and it’s going to change pretty dramatically. It’s better for it to change dramatically when we’re able to get a couple wins, but yeah, he changes the equation quite a bit — you have to plan for it.”
–Field Level Media