Joel Embiid’s status went from “doubtful” to “very doubtful” to “out of the game” to playing against the San Antonio Spurs.
Apparently, the 76ers big man, who has a sprained right hand, has a high tolerance for pain. That, and he’s tired of missing games due to ailments.
The Sixers benefited from his presence, beating the undermanned Spurs, 112-106, Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I love my team, and I want to be right there with them,” Embiid said of playing. “I don’t want to quit on them. Also, I wanted to give coach his first win against his former team. We did that for him.”
The win gave Brett Brown, a former longtime Spurs assistant, a 1-8 record against San Antonio. The victory also enabled the Sixers (18-19) to extend one streak and snap another one.
They have won three consecutive games for the first time since taking three straight from Nov. 20 to 25. The Sixers also snapped their 12-game losing streak to the Spurs (26-13).
Ben Simmons finished with a team-high 26 points, with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, and 4 turnovers. Embiid added 21 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 turnovers in 35-plus minutes. It was his 16th double-double of the season. JJ Redick scored 20 points, making 3 of 4 three-pointers.
Some might argue, however, that this victory should come with an asterisk.
San Antonio was without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker (return from injury management), Danny Green (left groin tightness), Manu Ginobili (rest), and Rudy Gay (right heel bursitis).
Embiid sprained his hand late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Phoenix Suns. And, based on the talk before the game, it seemed as though Embiid would also watch from the sidelines.
Coach Brett Brown talked about the difficulty his franchise player had at Tuesday’s practice.
“When you throw it into the post, and he’s got to catch it, it’s like touching a hot stove,” Brown said. “You don’t want anything to do with it. You just see that pain that he’s in when he touches the ball with his right hand.”
Embiid’s hand was noticeably swollen an hour before the game. That’s when he acknowledged that it was hurting “quite a bit.”
The doctor told him that it would take two to three weeks before the pain went away.
“So, it’s about the way I feel, and the way I progress everyday,” said Embiid, who has missed nine games due to knee and back ailments. “But, right now, it’s not feeling good.”
Embiid added, “I can’t really use [my hand]. I can’t shoot. I can’t use it to shoot. So if I can’t really use it to shoot, I can’t play.”
Around 10 minutes later, the center was ruled out of the game. However, the team announced 27 minutes before the game that he would indeed play.
The 23-year-old was solid from the start. He made both of his shot attempts en route to finishing with 6 points to go with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocks in the first quarter. But, he was in a lot of pain.
“He came in and surprised me, he actually made some shots,” Brown said. “If you saw the swelling in his hand, you wouldn’t have thought that would be the impact, he would have blocked shots, rebound, and would have been physical defensively.
“But he actually still had some finesse and touch to his shot with his swollen right hand.”
Still, the Sixers made this one interesting, blowing a 16-point, second-quarter lead. San Antonio took a 101-100 lead on Patty Mills jumper with 2 minutes, 49 seconds remaining.
But Simmons scored the Sixers next 6 points to give them a 106-103 advantage.
After a LaMarcus Aldridge foul shot, Redick hit a jumper to give the Sixers a 108-104 lead with 35 seconds left. Simmons’ dunk with 21 seconds remaining extended the Sixers’ cushion to 6 points.
Mills hit a pair of foul shots to close the gap. Dario Saric responded with a pair of foul shots to make it a 112-106 game with 10.7 remaining.
Mills finished with 26 points. Aldridge added 24 points and 14 rebounds.