NBA Playoffs

Embiid playing through Bell's palsy, determined to ‘keep fighting' through more misfortune 

Embiid said he first noticed symptoms before the Sixers' play-in tournament game.

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Joel Embiid’s postgame sunglasses during the Sixers’ first-round playoff series vs. the Knicks have not been a mere fashion statement. 

Yet again, Embiid is coping with health misfortune during the postseason. In addition to his left knee problems, Embiid has been playing through Bell’s palsy. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported that news. 

The condition “causes weakness in the muscles on one side of the face,” according to the Mayo Clinic, which adds up with Embiid’s noticeable recent issues blinking his left eye. 

After a magnificent, essential Game 3 performance Thursday night — 50 points on 13-for-19 shooting in the Sixers’ first win of the series — Embiid detailed his symptoms. 

“I don’t know exactly what happened, but I guess that’s a normal thing,” he said. “I think it started a day or two before the (play-in tournament) Miami game. I had bad migraines. I thought it was nothing. Usually, I don’t like to check it out. But for some reason I ended up having to tell somebody. That’s why that Miami game, my body … I was just not feeling it. … It’s pretty annoying with my left side of my face, my mouth and my eye. 

“So yeah, it’s been tough, but I’m not a quitter. Got to keep fighting, do anything. It’s unfortunate. That’s the way I look at it, but that’s not an excuse. Got to keep pushing.”

Embiid said his left eye has been “consistently dry,” which he’s been treating with eye drops. He said he’s experienced blurry vision at times. 

Even with those obstacles, Embiid’s shooting was world-class in Game 3. During the Sixers’ pivotal 43-point third quarter, Embiid shot 7 for 8 from the field and 4 for 4 from three-point range. He made his only long-distance shot of the fourth quarter, too. When their superstar big man is available and anywhere near optimal health, the Sixers are a daunting opponent to face.

Still, as has often been the case with Embiid, the future isn’t full of clarity and optimism. 

“I have no idea,” he said when asked how long his recovery might take. “It hasn’t really necessarily gotten better. Just based on the conversations that I’ve had, it could be weeks, it could be months. I just hope that it could stay like this. 

“I’ve got a beautiful face, so I don’t like when my mouth is looking the other way. Like I said, unfortunate situation, but everything happens for a reason. … I’ve got to take care of myself mentally.”

Embiid at one point referred back to the “draining, depressing” months he was out this season following a left meniscus injury. Before that stint on the sidelines, he'd improved upon his 2022-23 MVP season, averaging an NBA-best 35.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and a career-high 5.7 assists over his first 34 games.

Embiid cited the memories of his knee injury when describing the Flagrant 1 foul he picked up in Thursday’s first quarter. On the floor as center Mitchell Robinson went up for a layup, Embiid pulled on Robinson’s legs and incensed the Knicks.

“Obviously Mitchell Robinson was jumping. I was trying to make sure he didn’t land on me,” Embiid said, “because obviously we know the history that I have with (Jonathan) Kuminga landing on my knee. So I kind of had some flashbacks. It’s unfortunate. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody. It’s just, in those situations, I’ve got to protect myself because I’ve been in way too many situations where I’m always the recipient — the bad end of it. 

“So yeah, it was unfortunate, but it’s a physical game. They want to bring their physicality. We can be physical too, and we are. So it goes both ways. I get bumped all over the place and I just keep playing. And I’m not going to take it. I’ve got to keep my mind and make sure that I don’t get outside of myself. But I’ve just got to keep being myself, being aggressive and physical.”

Embiid was at least able to remain in the game, skirting clear of a Flagrant 2 foul. Zach Zarba told pool reporter Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer that his officiating crew and the replay center official were “unanimous that this did not rise to the level of excessive contact, unnecessary and excessive.” 

While that sequence broke in Embiid's favor, he’s gotten very little luck on the health front throughout his career. 

In seven playoff appearances, Embiid’s had physical troubles ranging from orbital fractures to gastroenteritis to a torn meniscus. The 2020 playoffs was his one smooth postseason health-wise. With Ben Simmons out because of a season-ending left knee injury, the Sixers were swept by the Celtics in Round 1. 

Bell’s palsy is new for Embiid, but he's grown accustomed to playing the cards he’s dealt. 

“Every single year, you start asking yourself questions like, ‘Why?’ Every single year, it’s very annoying,” he said. “Maybe it’s just meant to be. Just got to take it as it is. But the one thing I’m not going to do is give up. No matter what happens, got to keep pushing, got to keep fighting.

“Got to keep putting my body on the line for my family, for this city, for this team. I can’t sit back every single time and feel bad for myself. ... Yeah, it goes through your mind and you can ask yourself those questions, but what are you going to do about it? 

“Are you going to quit or are you going to keep going? … The best thing you can do is do the best job possible to prepare yourself every single day, which I’ve done. And sometimes you get the results, sometimes you don’t. But if there’s one thing I’ll say about myself, it’s that I’m not going to quit. And no matter what happens — if I win, if I don’t — I just know that when I’m done, I’m going to be proud of myself and my people are going to be proud of me.”

Here are five things to know about Philadelphia 76ers forward Joel Embiid.
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