Sixers: Can Joel Embiid rise from the ashes in Game 6?

Joel Embiid, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Joel Embiid, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Joel Embiid has not been himself lately. That’s completely understandable. People tend to get defensive when “excuses” are brought into the conversation, but Embiid is battling a torn thumb ligament and a facial fracture on the backend of concussion protocols. That’s a legitimate excuse.

That being said, we saw flashes of Embiid’s regular offensive dominance in the third quarter of Game 5. It didn’t make much difference with Miami hitting every shot and the Sixers wallowing in a 20-point deficit, but Embiid scored 11 of his 17 points in that quarter. For the briefest of moments, Embiid looked like Embiid.

What can the Sixers fanbase expect in Game 6? It’s do or die, and Embiid has said he’ll need to dig even deeper. I’m honestly not sure how deep Embiid can physically reach, and it’s unfair to expect his typical MVP-type of dominance. His body is failing him in the worst possible moment. But, there’s always hope. The hope of that rare, transcendent performance from one of the league’s great offensive talents.

Can Joel Embiid carry the Sixers to victory in a pivotal Game 6?

The Sixers have to win twice in a row to keep their season alive. That starts with winning tonight’s Game 6. The Heat reached another level defensively in Game 5. By avoiding switches and keeping Bam Adebayo tethered to Embiid on the elbow, Miami made it extremely difficult to get the ball to Embiid. It wasn’t that he was inefficient (7-of-12 from the field), it’s just that Miami kept the ball away from Embiid. You can’t score if you aren’t getting touches.

How does Doc Rivers counter? That will be the storyline of Game 6. It’s also on Embiid to figure out ways around it. Perhaps it’s more face-up opportunities starting at the 3-point line. Perhaps it’s simply applying more physicality to Adebayo — that’s where the injuries and the uncertainty creep into the equation. However it gets done, it has to get done. The Sixers need Embiid to be more featured in the offense to have the best chance at winning.

These are the moments — fair or not — that tend to make or break legacies. If Embiid can drag the Sixers out of purgatory to win this series, in spite of the team’s history of spineless collapses and shoddy big-game execution, it will completely change how people talk about him. Forget the Flu Game, Embiid would be known for the Broken Face Series.

The flip side is true too, unfortunately. If the Sixers lose, people will gradually forget about all the trials and tribulations Embiid and the Sixers faced. It will turn into “ah, he missed the conference finals again,” instead of “he fought valiantly in defeat.” That’s pretty dumb, and we are all smart enough to recognize Embiid’s greatness in its proper context, but a lot of players care about legacy. Embiid is clearly one of them.

In the end, Philadelphia might need James Harden and Tyrese Maxey to be the catalyst behind a Game 6 victory. Embiid’s just not at 100 percent. There’s no way to play around injuries. He can’t magic them away. But we have seen the flashes, and there’s no player who wants it more than Embiid. Remove the rest of the roster from the equation for a second and think about Embiid’s path to this moment. We know how much he wants to win — that’s why he’s playing through this injury to begin with. Hopefully his body will keep pace with his aspirations in Game 6. There’s never been a better time for Embiid to put up a career-defining performance.

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