Sixers observations

3 observations after Embiid struggles through return, then leaves with knee injury in loss

Embiid limped to the locker room in the fourth quarter Tuesday night.

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The Sixers dropped to 0-4 on their five-game road trip Tuesday night with a 119-107 loss to the Warriors at Chase Center.

Joel Embiid’s health is a bigger story than the game’s result.

Embiid, who returned to action following a two-game absence because of left knee soreness, struggled physically throughout the night. Then, with a little over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Jonathan Kuminga fell on Embiid’s left knee while pursuing a loose ball. Embiid ultimately limped back to the locker room.

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse told reporters postgame that Embiid will get an MRI on Tuesday night or Wednesday. He said the injury is “unrelated” to the knee problem that’s been bothering Embiid recently. 

The 29-17 Sixers were already without five players to begin the game in Tyrese Maxey (left ankle sprain), Nicolas Batum (left hamstring tightness), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response), Marcus Morris Sr. (left foot plantar fasciitis) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise). They’ll conclude this road trip by facing the Jazz on Thursday.

Here are observations on Embiid’s night and the Sixers’ defeat: 

Embiid's knee a major concern all night

Embiid took mid-range jumpers over Draymond Green on the Sixers’ first two possessions and missed them both.

The Sixers grabbed the game’s first eight offensive rebounds, although there were many misses available. They started 3 for 17 from the floor, regularly settled for jumpers, and lacked offensive flow. Following a season-worst 5-for-29 three-point shooting night Monday in Portland, the Sixers had yet another slow long-range start. Embiid broke the ice by stealing a careless Stephen Curry fling up the court and then strolling into a top-of-the-key jumper. 

Of course, Embiid’s health always matters far more for the Sixers than any numbers. Nothing about his night was encouraging on that front.

Embiid’s movement often appeared awkward, labored, uncomfortable and generally much worse than his norm. Even when he was just jogging up and down the floor, Embiid looked off. 

It wouldn’t have been surprising if the Sixers decided to end Embiid’s night at halftime. However, he ultimately went 30 minutes. Embiid shot 5 for 18 from the field, attempted just two free throws (both technicals), and turned the ball over eight times.

There’s frequently gray area in determining when a player should sit and the Sixers’ medical staff has the most detailed picture of Embiid's health. Still, the bottom line is that he's sat out five January games because of his left knee and was hampered again Tuesday. It didn’t make intuitive sense that he played a full regular-season game — at limited effectiveness — under those circumstances. 

Embiid's presence on the floor seemed risky and fundamentally unnecessary well before Kuminga landed on his knee.

Jumping on top in the possession game 

In addition to rebounding, the Sixers also earned a sizable early edge in turnovers. 

Their success in that area was predictable. The Sixers entered Tuesday’s game ranked first in the NBA in offensive turnover percentage and seventh in defensive turnover percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass. Golden State has been a bottom-10 team in both categories. 

The Warriors committed the evening’s first seven giveaways. Jaden Springer picked up two first-quarter steals and impressed by playing aggressive, instinctive defense without fouling and capitalizing on Golden State’s miscues. He made a great play late in the first quarter digging down on Kuminga and ripping the ball from him, which led to a Tobias Harris transition layup. 

In his second game back from an illness, Harris (26 points, 10 rebounds) was much better than he’d been Monday. He got to a dozen points with a second-quarter put-back layup, giving the Sixers a six-point lead and causing Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to call timeout. 

The Sixers’ offense couldn’t sustain any momentum, though. With their superstar big man struggling, the Sixers trailed by two points at intermission and had a mere three assists. 

Springer, Korkmaz positives in the loss

Embiid was whistled for his fourth foul and Golden State went up 14 points late in the third quarter.

The Sixers were unexpectedly outstanding over the next couple of Embiid-less minutes. They pulled off a 9-0 run that featured a Furkan Korkmaz three, a driving Harris layup, and an explosive KJ Martin block on Kuminga. 

For a depleted team completing a back-to-back and on a road trip that’s been fruitless so far, the Sixers' effort was quite strong. The Warriors pushed back at the tail end of the third quarter, but the Sixers kept scrapping. Springer drilled a three early in the fourth period. So did Korkmaz, who scored a season-high 19 points. The pair combined for 29 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Springer set a new career high with four steals. 

Embiid was still not close to himself when he subbed back in. Curry (37 points) drained a step-back three to restore Golden State's double-digit advantage and the Warriors polished off a win without issue.

For a Sixers team that's 3-9 this season without Embiid, the reigning MVP's status means more than any of the specifics Tuesday night.

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