Joel Embiid could once again miss some extended time with a injury.
The 76ers announced Thursday that the two-time All-Star center has a torn radial collateral ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. Embiid will have surgery Friday in New York and will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks.
He’s expected to be out longer than that. The injury could affect a non-athlete up to 12 weeks, depending on the severity. However, that timeframe is often reduced for athletes. His loss means the Sixers will be without their franchise player for at least the immediate future.
“All of a sudden, we’re different,” coach Brett Brown said before the game against the Boston Celtics. "We’re just different. I look at this as an opportunity. Nobody’s crying. This is not a ‘woe is me’ moment, not for me, at all. And not for my players.
“We’ll take what we have, and what we have, I love.”
The Sixers acquired five-time All-Star Al Horford in free agency last summer to play power forward and backup center. He was considered an insurance policy in case Embiid missed considerable time.
So he got the start at center Thursday against his former team. Mike Scott started at power forward alongside normal starters Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Ben Simmons.
“It impacts all of us,” Horford said. “It is not just me. It is our team. Joel, he is our go-to guy. He is our guy and it’s not good to hear that, and we just hope he recovers fast and gets back.”
Embiid is averaging 23.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.35 blocks in 31.1 minutes. He also provides a stiff defensive presence.
Brown said the team would change things up on defense with the 7-foot-2 rim protector sidelined.
“I am putting a blow torch, a bullet, many bullets into what we used to do,” Brown said of the Sixers’ old defensive scheme. “Really, like, it doesn’t fit. So shame on me to try to make it fit. We don’t have Joel Embiid.”
That doesn’t mean the Sixers are going to completely pivot out of what they were doing. They just realize that the 6-10 Horford doesn’t provide the rim protection or shot-blocking that Embiid does.
“I think it’s just taking sort of the house we lived and moving the furniture around a little bit,” Brown said. “That’s what I intend to do.”
Embiid suffered the hand injury in the first quarter Monday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He went to the locker room twice in the quarter to get it treated.
The Cameroonian finished the game with 18 points, 9 rebounds, and a season-high 8 assists in 32 minutes, 37 seconds. He had his hand checked for ligament damage after the game.
Embiid missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday while consulting with doctors.
“It is what it is,” Richardson said of losing Embiid. “... You know it hurts losing your best player. But other guys have to step up. Next man up.”
The game against Boston marked the eighth that Embiid has missed this season.
Embiid was sidelined Oct. 26 against the Detroit Pistons with a sprained right ankle. Then he served a two-game suspension (Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 2 and Phoenix Suns on Nov. 4) for fighting Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. He missed the Nov. 13 road game against the Magic to rest.
Embiid also missed the Sixers’ Dec. 7 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with a bruised left hip. And he missed the Dec. 15 game in Brookley with an upper-respiratory illness.
Embiid then missed the Dec. 31 game against the Indiana Pacers with left knee soreness.
Missing games is nothing new. Embiid has been sidelined an extended period of time with an injury each season since being drafted third overall by the Sixers in 2014.
He sat out his first two seasons with two foot surgeries. Embiid had season-ending surgery to repair the meniscus tear in his left knee during the 2016-17 campaign. The following year he missed time with a fracture near the orbital bone near his left eye. And last season, he missed time with tendinitis in his left knee.
“He is going to be out for however long," Tobias Harris said. “It is up to us to pick up the slack and just be ready to go. Next-man-up mentality.”