Joel Embiid expected to play in Game 2 against Celtics after right knee injury: sources

Philadelphia 76ers star center Joel Embiid is on track to return to the lineup for Game 2 of Wednesday’s second-round series against the Boston Celtics, barring setbacks in his injured right knee, league sources said Athletic. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Embiid, who was named league MVP last night, turned to his teammates during a quick 76ers celebration and said, “I’m back,” league sources said Athletic.
  • Embiid initially suffered what the team called a sprained right knee on April 20 during Game 3 of the 76ers’ first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. He missed the 76ers’ last two playoff games — Game 4 against Brooklyn in the first round and Game 1 against Boston on Monday — because of the injury.
  • Embiid was initially listed as questionable to return for Game 2, according to league sources Athletic that injury is considered more serious than a grade 1 LCL sprain.


Embiid’s durability has long been an issue. The Sixers star missed his first two NBA seasons with complications from a broken tibia in his right foot and has missed an average of 23 games in the seven seasons since. He has also missed at least one playoff game in five of his six postseason appearances, though his absence from the first two games of last season’s second-round series against the Miami Heat was due to a concussion and right orbital fracture.

The 76ers lead the series against the Celtics 1-0 after winning Game 1 on the road on Monday. James Harden, Embiid’s star, led the way with 45 points, including a 3-pointer over Al Horford.

Can the Sixers take full control of this series now?

After stealing home-court advantage in Game 1, the Sixers are playing on some money tonight in Boston. With a win, they take full control of the series. But even if they lose, they’ll be back in a buzzing environment in Philly. It remains to be seen how Embiid looks upon his return, but if he is anywhere close to normal, the Sixers now have a much better chance of taking another game in Boston. — Rich Hoffman

What Sixers fans should watch with Embiid

I’ll keep an eye on two things. The first is how he moves, because Boston has the personnel to play a five-out offense and make him cover a lot of ground on the defensive end. Embiid should solve some of the Sixers’ defensive woes — that was a sticking line for Boston early in Game 1, as they shot over 70 percent from the field in the first half — but Horford and the Celtics generally countered Embiid’s rim protection with shooting.

The second thing is how much Embiid plays; it’s been almost two weeks since his last game. Backup center Paul Reed is usually called upon to play 10 minutes per game with a healthy Embiid, but could that number be closer to 20 on Tuesday? Embiid may take a few games to regain his fitness even under the best of circumstances, while Reed has performed well under pressure.Hoffman

The Celtics’ loss in Game 1 now looms larger

Once upon a time, the Celtics could limit Embiid as well as any other team. This has not been the case for some time. He averaged 36.8 points per game against Boston this season with an incredible 52-point performance (on 20-of-25 shooting) late in the campaign. Will he be able to reach that level coming back from a knee injury? How effective will it be?

Even when Embiid is healthy, the Celtics challenge him on the defensive end of the court with Horford’s ability to space the floor. If Embiid has trouble closing down the perimeter, Boston could potentially take advantage of that. But he is the MVP. He will put a lot of pressure on their defence, which has not troubled the opposition enough in the last five games. His return early in the series is a huge reason why the Celtics can regret not getting it going in Game 1 when he was still sidelined by the knee. — Jay King

How does Boston’s strategy change now?

The 76ers’ game plan without Embiid worked as well as they could have hoped in Game 1, so how do things change with his return? Boston’s offense looked to get as deep into the paint as possible against Reid and PJ Tucker in Game 1. The Celtics used all kinds of back cuts while pressing in transition to expose Philly’s back line. They can’t get behind the defense when Embiid is there, assuming he can move.

Embiid will give them space to pull up and shoot it, so Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will have to lock down their shot in a way they haven’t been able to do consistently this season. They need to force Embiid out of the paint and make him move laterally. This is the biggest weakness for someone with a sprained knee. The more Boston can push him out of his defensive comfort zone, the better chance they have of limiting him when he has the ball. — Jared Weiss

Required reading

Rich Hoffman: Joel Embiid’s Rise to NBA MVP: The Process and the People Who Fueled It
Hoffman: How James Harden wished the Sixers would steal Game 1 in Boston without Joel Embiid
Jared Weiss: Celtics prepared for Joel Embiid-less 76ers, but still couldn’t stop James Harden
Jay King, Weiss and Hoffman: Celtics-Sixers preview: Can 76ers survive Joel Embiid injury? Predictions and more
king: The key to the Celtics’ offensive turnaround? Teamwork, trust and lots of “randomness”

(Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

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