Doc Rivers caught some criticism for playing Joel Embiid and the other 76ers starters late in a blowout victory to close out the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
With the Sixers up 29 points, Embiid suffered an orbital bone fracture near his right eye and a concussion with 3 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the opening-round series. He was hit in the face by an inadvertent elbow delivered by Toronto’s Pascal Siakam. Siakam was eventually called for an offensive foul. The MVP candidate is sidelined indefinitely by those injuries heading into the Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Miami Heat. Game 1 is 7:30 p.m. on Monday at FTX Arena.
Embiid will not accompany the Sixers on their flight to Miami on Sunday.
After Saturday’s practice, Rivers was asked why Embiid was still in the game with the team up by 29 points with four minutes left.
“It wasn’t four minutes left and 29 points,” Rivers said. “He scored the bucket [at the 4:10 mark] to make it 29. And in the playoffs, just so everyone knows, so we can not talk about blame and talk about winning this next series.”
Interrupting Rivers, the reporter asked, “So why was he in?”
“I’m about to answer that, all right,” he said. “Because everyone was in. The other team had all their guys in, too. The last five minutes of the game, we made the run the last minute ... right before that. That’s when we got up 29.
“After Joel made the shot and did the [celebratory] airplane, if you watched the game, I turned and said, ‘I’m calling a timeout on the next possession.’”
Rivers was going to call the timeout to take Embiid out of the game. Unfortunately, Embiid’s injury happened before he could do it.
Hindsight is 20/20, but the Raptors were battling for their postseason lives against a Sixers squad known for blowing huge leads.
They blew an 18-point lead in Game 4 and a 26-point lead in Game 5 of last season’s conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.
Rivers added that he’s not upset that Embiid was in the game.
“You can make that a big deal if you want,” he said. “But just go and look at every team and every game and their guys are in until about the 4-, 3-minute mark.”
Sixers to rely more on James Harden
The Sixers will lean on James Harden to provide the offensive spark with Embiid sidelined.
“We are going to play more of a James-dominant offense than we have because we have to,” Rivers said. “We’re going to space the floor more. We’re going to play in space more.”
While Embiid was healthy, the Sixers adapted their offense to his style of play. With Embiid
sidelined, Rivers said they have to do something else.
Harden thrived in isolation plays as a Houston Rocket.
Bassey returns to practice
Charles Bassey was a full participant at Saturday’s practice. The rookie center had been sidelined with an injury (sprained right shoulder) suffered in G League action.