WASHINGTON — The 76ers got a rare win at the Capital One Arena, but lost their best player.
Joel Embiid suffered what the team is calling a game-ending left knee injury in Friday’s 127-101 victory over the Washington Wizards.
The Sixers (26-12) snapped a 10-game, head-to-head losing streak against the Wizards (14-22) in D.C. They had lost 23 of their last 29 games here before Friday.
But the victory turned out to be a footnote.
The main storyline had to do with Embiid’s health.
The four-time All-Star center landed awkwardly after dunking the ball with 6 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third quarter. His knee bent back, obviously in the wrong direction, as he hyperextended it. Postgame, Doc Rivers said that, to his knowledge, Embiid had not had an X-ray. Embiid will have an MRI on Saturday in the Philadelphia area.
“It looked like a hyperextension and that’s what we’ll hope that it is,” said Tobias Harris, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. “We are just praying that he will be OK and be healthy tomorrow, as he gets an MRI.
“We know how important Joel is to this the team, and how much emphasis he put on his health and his body this year. So it’s unfortunate to see that happen.”
The MRI will show if there’s structural damage and the extent of it.
“I’m not going to speculate,” Rivers said. “Tomorrow, we will have all of the information for you. I’m hoping for the best.”
After falling to the ground, grabbing his left knee while in obvious pain, Embiid was on the court for over a minute as his teammates rushed to his aid. They even requested a stretcher for their fallen comrade. However, he was able to limp off the court, with some assistance, and into the locker room without the stretcher.
Embiid had 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 20 minutes, 24 seconds of action. He fell to the ground several times during the game before suffering the injury.
Rivers spoke to Embiid in the locker room after the game.
“He was in pretty good spirits,” the coach said. “So let’s just hope for the best.”
This was Embiid’s first game back after clearing the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol earlier in the day.
He missed Sunday’s All-Star Game and Thursday’s 127-105 road victory over the Chicago Bulls due to coming in contact with a barber who tested positive for COVID-19. Embiid had to quarantine for seven days following the last exposure to him.
Embiid was cleared to play after receiving a lab-based PCR negative result on Friday. It was his seventh straight day of testing negative. Ben Simmons also came in contact with the same barber. He will be cleared to rejoin the team Saturday if he continues to test negative.
Prior to Friday’s game, Rivers said the team’s communications with Embiid and Simmons consisted of telling them to “get healthy, stay healthy, stay in condition.” That’s basically all the Sixers could do as players in protocol are forced to self isolate.
“Joel’s here and he hasn’t played in a game, hadn’t had a practice in a week,” Rivers said before the game. “It will be interesting to see how he performs tonight and how we perform with him. Obviously, we are going to throw him out there.
“But I have to be very careful in watching him move and stuff like that.”
Unfortunately for the Sixers, being careful didn’t prevent injury.
For the second straight game, shooting guard Seth Curry moved to point guard, while Matisse Thybulle got the start at the two. Danny Green and Harris started at their normal forward spots. The only difference from Thursday was that Embiid was back with the team and in the starting lineup.
The game showcased the league’s top two scorers, as Washington’s Bradley Beal came in averaging an NBA-best 32.5 points. Embiid was second at 30.2.
Beal had 19 points after being a game-time decision with left knee soreness.
Embiid looked like he was eager to get back on the court after clearing protocol.
He blocked Rui Hachimura’s 4-foot layup 1 minute, 40 seconds into the game. Embiid scored his first basket on a layup 34 seconds later. His second basket came on a nasty two-handed dunk with Russell Westbrook and Mo Wagner defending.
Embiid had 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting to go with three rebounds and one block before being subbed out of the game with 3:33 left in the first quarter. He was a plus-14.
The Sixers held a 32-15 lead after one quarter.
Embiid ended up with 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with five rebounds and two blocks in the first half.
It became obvious early on that the Wizards wouldn’t be able to stop him on this night. On one first-half play, Embiid scored and was fouled while being triple-teamed. He went on convert the three-point playing, to giving the Sixers a 55-44 lead with 3:28 left in the half. The Sixers went into the locker room up, 63-53, at the break.
The Sixers went on to build a commanding 32-point lead. They lost their spark for a brief moment after Embiid’s injury before taking the 26-point victory.
The team is hoping this injury isn’t serious.
But there’s cause for alarm whenever Embiid goes down.
The 26-year-old has thrived despite battling injuries since being drafted by the Sixers. He sat out his first two seasons because of two foot surgeries. He had season-ending surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee during the 2016-17 campaign. The following year, he missed time because of an orbital bone fracture near his left eye. Then, Embiid missed time during the 2018-19 season with tendinitis in his left knee, and last season missed time after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger.
But on Friday, the Sixers got their rare victory in D.C.
It was a balanced effort, with six players scoring in double digits. The Sixers made 11 of 21 three-pointers (52.4%) and all 18 of their free-throw attempts. Reserve Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz were the team’s second-leading scorers with 18 points each.
With the game out of hand, the Sixers rested Harris, Curry (14 points, three assists) and Thybulle (eight points, three steals, one block) in the fourth quarter.
One of the coaches mentioned the team’s 10-game losing streak in D.C. to Rivers before the game. The coach asked him if he would mention it to the team.
“I said why would I mention it? I had nothing to do with that ‘,” he said. “‘So we are tonight. Let’s go get the win.’”
Rivers joked “maybe the streets of Washington being closed helped us.”