TORONTO — Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid believes he will be able to play through his right thumb sprain until the playoffs are done, saying that if there is a ligament tear he expects to hold off any sort of surgical procedure until the offseason.
“I want to play, so obviously got to listen to what they have to say,” Embiid said Saturday after the 76ers were on the wrong end of a 110-102 decision to the Raptors in Game 4 of their first-round series. “So, I would imagine that I keep playing and probably do something after the season.”
Embiid, who suffered the thumb sprain in the first half of Game 3, finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes in Game 4. He went 7-for-16 from the field and 7-for-9 from the foul line. He wore a wrap on his right (shooting) thumb during the game and had the same brace on his hand that he had after Game 3 and for Friday’s practice.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday that an initial exam of the thumb showed a ligament tear, but that an MRI, which Embiid said would be taken Sunday, was needed to confirm it.
Embiid said the injury was painful and joked that “in basketball, you need to use your hand a lot” when asked if it was impacting his play on the court.
When asked what specifically is bothering him, he said it impacted his rebounding. Embiid’s eight rebounds were the fewest he’s had in a game since a win over Dallas on Jan. 18 — a span of 14 games.
“I would say it was more, you know, when it comes to rebounding, at the free throw and also passing,” Embiid said. “I don’t know how to explain but it’s whatever. But the bigger story is that we lost the game, we weren’t able to close it out. And we got to do a better job.”
The 76ers weren’t able to close the series out because the Raptors were able to carry over the way they played throughout most of Game 3, which they led the vast majority of before Embiid’s last-second shot in overtime stole a victory for Philadelphia. And Toronto was able to continue playing that way despite losing All-Star guard Fred VanVleet in the second quarter with a left hip strain.
VanVleet tore his jersey in half in frustration as he walked off the court with 4:57 to go in the second quarter and was later ruled out. The Raptors point guard was getting further imaging done on his hip Saturday night to determine his availability moving forward.
“I think he probably knew pretty well that it hurt enough that he was leaving the game,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “First of all, as you all know, he has been banged around pretty good this year and he continues to lace them up and go out there and play big minutes every night. So, there’s a lot to that. Not every guy in this league does that.
“And when you are fighting through one thing and all of a sudden you get another one that feels as painful as it looked to him, then it’s frustrating. He is going to play through a lot of bangs and bruises and bumps and not being healthy and I’m sure he just wanted to play so I’m sure he was frustrated.”
The Raptors were able to overcome VanVleet’s absence in part because of the return of Scottie Barnes, who was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year on Saturday. Barnes returned after missing the prior two games with a sprained left ankle.
Barnes, who came off the bench initially, replaced VanVleet as the team’s starting point guard in the second half. While he went 1-for-6 from the field, he finished with 11 rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in addition to six points.
“Just try to bring that defensive effort,” Barnes said, when asked about his mindset in Game 4. “Step on the floor and try to get us into some different things. Really just try to keep us going, bring energy trying to do certain things.
“Just having that presence trying to be a leader out there on the floor, that’s really what I’m trying to do. Not really trying to do so much, just bring that presence.”
The Raptors, like they did in Game 3 here, continued to give Philadelphia fits in the ways they were supposed to coming into the series. Toronto forced the 76ers into 16 turnovers — which became 22 Raptors points — and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, leading to 12 second-chance points and eight more shot attempts.
That, along with Toronto shooting more free throws than Philadelphia for the first time in the series (35-25) and getting big performances from Pascal Siakam (34 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Gary Trent Jr (24 points), was enough for the Raptors to get on the board in the series.
And while the 76ers said they didn’t play with enough energy and effort and needed to be better in Game 5, Embiid had his own message for the officiating crew of Scott Foster, Ed Malloy and Rodney Mott as he gave them an extended golf clap on his way off the court.
“Well, I’m gonna take my own advice and not complain about fouls,” Embiid said. “But, like I was doing at the end of the game [with the clapping], they did a great job. I admire the job that they did today. To me, it felt like they had one job coming in here tonight, and they got it done. So, congrats to them.”
When asked if that “job” was to make sure there was a Game 5, Embiid said, “I don’t know. … But you can figure it out. But they did a great job.
“Like I said, I’m gonna take my own advice and not complain about it. I guess, next game, if they’re not gonna call it, I’m gonna be even more aggressive offensively and defensively. If they want to give them, like, fouls or if they want to call, really, no fouls, I’ve really got to make them earn them and really be physical.”
Embiid admitted he still wasn’t sure what happened in Game 3 to cause the injury. It’s just the latest in a series of fluky injuries Embiid has suffered throughout his career — and especially in the playoffs.
But when he was asked if he was frustrated by having to yet again deal with an injury at the most important time of the year, Embiid said he just focuses on what he can control when he goes on the court.
“It’s whatever,” Embiid said. “I’m Catholic. God … I always put it in his hands. So that’s why when I go out there I don’t focus on, you know, what can happen or what’s going to happen?
“I just go out there hoping for the best and trusting, trusting [my teammates]. So this series hasn’t been … I mean, nobody knows [this], but I was really sick for the first two games. But you know, I fought through it.
“It’s the playoffs. Nothing is gonna stop me. So I just got to keep going, and hope for the best.”