Game 3 showed why the Sixers can’t ever quit Joel Embiid (2024)

Game 3 against the New York Knicks had the chance to get away from the Sixers early on Thursday night.

After some egregious officiating blunders cost the Sixers at the end of Game 2, emotions were running high early in Game 3. Kyle Lowry was called for a flagrant-1 midway through the first quarter, and Joel Embiid got called for one—while perhaps narrowly avoiding another—shortly thereafter. With 4:34 left in the fourth quarter, Embiid already had two fouls, including one against Mitchell Robinson that Knicks players bemoaned as “dirty” after the game.

With the Sixers clinging to a 44-41 lead midway through the second quarter, Embiid picked up his third foul, which put head coach Nick Nurse in a pickle. Teams often pull players with three first-half fouls to avoid the risk of them picking up their fourth, but Nurse opted to keep Embiid in with the season effectively on the line.

Embiid responded with a playoff-career-high 50 points on 13-of-19 shooting, making him the first player in NBA history with 50-plus points on fewer than 20 shots in a playoff game. He had 18 points in the third quarter alone, when he went 4-of-4 from deep in a three-point barrage that put the Sixers ahead for good on Thursday. He did so with only one good knee and one good eye, too.

After the game, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Embiid was being treated for a “mild case” of Bell’s palsy, which explains the mysterious eye ailment that had been afflicting him in recent games. He told reporters that he began experiencing bad migraines a day or two before the Sixers faced the Miami Heat in the play-in tournament game on April 16.

“That’s why in the Miami game, my body, I was just not feeling it,” he said. “I’m sure if you Google the symptoms you know what it is.”

He added that his eye is “consistently dry” and “blurry at times,” which makes his performance Thursday night that much more absurd. Tyrese Maxey, who has likewise been sensational throughout the series, credited Embiid for setting the tone Thursday.

“His voice and his presence tonight was the biggest thing,” Maxey told reporters. “I know he had 50—I just said that like it was nothing—but his voice, his presence, his passion was huge tonight. He didn’t let us get pushed around early. They were trying to push us around and be aggressive with us, and he set the tone early, like, we’re not going for that.”

Embiid was walking on the razor’s edge early in the game with that physicality. His foul on Robinson easily could have been—and likely would have been—a flagrant-2 had this been a regular-season game. Embiid told reporters after the game that he did it to protect himself, with flashbacks of Jonathan Kuminga landing on his knee still fresh in his mind, but he’s lucky that the officiating crew saw it that way. (Crew chief Zach Zarba told pool reporter Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer that the officiating crew and the NBA’s replay center in Secaucus were “unanimous” that it “did not rise to the level of excessive contact” to merit a flagrant-2.)

The early foul trouble and tempers flaring could have derailed Embiid and the Sixers, but he channeled that emotion into a tour de force. He had his way as a scorer from all three levels, and the Knicks were particularly powerless to stop him after Robinson aggravated his ankle injury in the second quarter and left the game.

Embiid was by no means bad in Games 1 and 2—he averaged 31.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists, albeit on only 39.2 percent shooting—but Thursday night was arguably the most that he’s looked like himself since returning from his meniscus procedure in early April. That caught the attention of Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, too.

“He keeps getting better all the time,” Nurse told reporters after the game. “But I think tonight, he was aggressive, right? … He was driving it, rolling downhill, he was catching and shooting quick. There was maybe, I can think of one where he held it for a long time and finally shot it, and he made it. But most of it was decisive. Maybe that’s a better word. I thought he was decisive on his decisions on when to roll and when to shoot tonight.”

Embiid also appears to have made good use of his time off when it comes to his three-point shooting. During the 34 games he played prior to his meniscus injury, he averaged 1.2 made threes on 3.3 attempts per game (36.6 percent). Since his return, he’s 24-of-55 from deep (43.6 percent). He’s taken at least seven three-pointers in five of his last six games after attempting that many in only one of his first 37 games this season.

After Game 2, longtime Process truster Pablo Torre went on the Dan Le Batard Show and said Embiid needed to “step up in a big game.” Two days later, Embiid did just that.

“Joel Embiid needs to step up in a big game…I’m tired of being the prophet of the process”

- Diehard Philadelphia 76ers fan, @PabloTorre has officially grown tired of “the process”.

— Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz (@LeBatardShow) April 23, 2024

It’s natural to feel frustrated by Embiid’s seemingly never-ending list of injuries, particularly in the playoffs. (Bell’s palsy is a fun twist from the NBA scriptwriters this year, we’ve gotta give ‘em that.) But Embiid showed Thursday why Daryl Morey and the Sixers plan to keep gambling on him despite his injury risk. Few players in the NBA can match his ceiling.

Regardless of how this series plays out, Embiid made clear Thursday that he isn’t going down without a fight, either.

“The one thing I’m not going to do is give up, no matter what happens,” Embiid told reporters. “Gotta keep pushing, gotta keep fighting, gotta keep putting my body on the line for my family, for this city, for this team.”

Against all odds, the Sixers will now have a chance to even the series Sunday thanks to Embiid’s heroics in Game 3.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac and salary-cap information via RealGM.

Game 3 showed why the Sixers can’t ever quit Joel Embiid (2024)


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