MIAMI – For Joel Embiid, is it just a matter of getting back into rhythm? Or is the 76ers star center’s left hand still bothering him?
On Saturday in Boston, Embiid looked nothing like a guy voted to be an NBA All-Star starter for the third consecutive time.
He struggled shooting the ball and was often in no-man’s-land on the defensive end. The latter led to easy baskets by the Celtics. In the end, Embiid finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 4 turnovers (all in the first quarter) in the Sixers’ 116-95 setback at TD Garden.
He made just 1 of 11 shots from the field in his 23 minutes, 26 seconds of playing time. Embiid had only three rebounds through three quarters.
He made the game’s first basket, a 6-foot hook, 17 seconds into the game. It was the Sixers’ only lead and his only shooting highlight, as he missed 10 straight shots.
Embiid declined to speak to the media following the second-worst shooting performance of his NBA career. The only one worse was when he 0-for-11 in a scoreless outing at Toronto in December.
The Sixers (31-19) can only hope that he plays much better Monday night in a key game at Miami.
Philly head into this contest against the Heat (33-15) having lost three straight road games and nine of their last 11.
An improved game from Embiid would help the Sixers get back on track.
But what specifically has gone wrong to lead to his struggles?
“You know, I don’t really know,” coach Brett Brown said. "I give credit to Boston’s physicality. We didn’t -- he didn’t -- start the game well with turnovers. I think we had seven turnovers in the first period, he had four of those, and they came at him.
“They came off the dribble. I think they were physical with him with a crowd. We just didn’t start well with him."
Brown doesn’t think the Sixers did a good enough job of getting him the ball after his first made basket.
They need to help Embiid find an offensive rhythm by feeding him in the post. However, that’s only effective when they space around him properly and make three-pointers. On this night, the Sixers made just 7 of 33 threes for 21.2%, so things were tough for the big man.
Nights like this are why Philly is in desperate need of a shooter before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
This marked Embiid’s third game back after missing following surgery on Jan. 10 to repair a ligament tear in his left ring finger. In all, he had been sidelined nine games since the injury. Embiid has also been wearing a splint on the hand since his return.
Embiid returned Tuesday in a 115-104 home victory over Golden State. On that night, Embiid finished with a team-high 24 points, 10 rebounds and 5 turnovers while coincidentally wearing No. 24 instead of his usual No. 21 to honor the memory of Kobe Bryant.
On Thursday, Embiid finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds in a 127-117 road loss to the Atlanta Hawks. He and Sixers struggled in pick-and-roll defense.
But he really looked out of sorts against the Celtics. Not only was Embiid once again a victim of the Sixers’ poor spacing, he shot the ball poorly. Defensively, he was usually a step slow or out of position. It also appeared that he became overly cautious with his left hand.
Asked if Embiid’s finger is healthy, Brown said: "I think there are some times it doesn’t feel it, like when he’s in the crowd trying to finish or pass. But his conditioning is fine. You can’t put any blame on that.