CAMDEN, N.J. — If you’re frustrated by all the last-minute, game-time decisions for Joel Embiid, you’re not alone.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson voiced his displeasure before Game 4 about finding out the Sixers’ starting lineup five minutes before each game of the series. He wondered if the NBA could do something about it.
Embiid spoke to reporters Monday at the team’s practice facility. Maybe he’d shed some light for Atkinson about his status for Game 5 Tuesday night.
“Gotta keep ‘em guessing.”
While Embiid did say that with a big grin on his face, it’s hard to chalk it up solely to gamesmanship. The left knee soreness he’s dealing with did cause him to miss Game 3, a game the Sixers still managed to win in convincing fashion on the road.
Embiid said the pain is still at the same level and he’s still undergoing constant treatment while trying to find the perfect balance of rest and staying active.
“It goes both ways,” he said. “You can’t rest it completely and you also can’t do too much. Like I said, it’s all about managing it. We just got to figure that out.”
It’s apparent that Embiid has figured out how to get under the Nets’ skin.
He’s committed two Flagrant 1 fouls on young center Jarrett Allen — the second of which he has been adamant in saying he doesn’t agree with. The one Saturday caused series pest Jared Dudley to erupt, which started a fight that got Dudley and Jimmy Butler ejected.
While the trade-off of Butler for Dudley heavily favors Brooklyn, the incident did light a fire under Embiid. But that’s nothing new for the All-Star center. Throughout his career, the “trolling sun of a gun,” as Butler so aptly referred to him, seems to thrive in that kind of environment.
“It’s fun,” Embiid said. “I try not to pay attention, but things like the other night with the fight, I felt like it took my game to another level, especially with Jimmy being out. I felt like I had to go get it with my teammates' help. Mike [Scott] and JJ [Redick] knocked big shots, Ben [Simmons] had a big steal, too. It’s fun. [It’s] the playoffs. It’s fun and I’m enjoying it.”
With Embiid picking up his second Flagrant 1 of the playoffs, he now has “two points” in the NBA’s system. If he gets up to four points, it’ll be an automatic one-game suspension.
The Sixers did win Game 3 without him, but as Game 4 demonstrated, he can be absolutely brilliant. If they move on to play the Raptors in the second round, they’ll need the player we saw Saturday afternoon. Losing him to injury is something completely out of anyone’s control. But a suspension is completely avoidable.
So will Embiid change his style at all?
“No. Just got to play basketball,” Embiid said. “If it happens, it happens. Like I said, I’m mature. I know what I’m doing. Although the last one I don’t even know if it was even a foul. It felt like I got all ball so I don’t get why they issued a flagrant foul. It doesn’t make sense, but I’m going to play basketball and be myself.”
Brett Brown didn’t seem to agree with that sentiment. He reminded his players of infamous suspensions in recent playoff history that likely cost teams titles, including Draymond Green’s suspension in 2016 which was a big factor in the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead.
“It’s not holding your breath, there are reminders that I owe my players as the coach to have them be adults — be big boys and navigate through this,” Brown said. “It’s not our fault at times we’re 20 pounds heavier and three inches taller. So in the meantime, we just need to be smarter and that’s my job.”
Whether Embiid plays and tones down his play in Game 5 is anyone's guess.
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