No masking Embiid's deep desire

Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket while being defended by Hassan Whiteside (left) and Kelly Olynyk. Embiid scored 23 points in the Sixers' 128-108 win in Game 3.
Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket while being defended by Hassan Whiteside (left) and Kelly Olynyk. Embiid scored 23 points in the Sixers' 128-108 win in Game 3.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Sixers' centre back after a broken eye socket, inspires team to 2-1 series lead against Miami

MIAMI • When the Philadelphia 76ers lost Game 2 of the National Basketball Association (NBA) first-round play-off series against the Miami Heat on Monday, Joel Embiid took to Instagram to post a profane message.

"(Bleeping) sick and tired of being babied," the centre, sidelined since March 28 due to a broken orbital bone and a concussion, said.

He later explained: "I promised the city the play-offs, and I'm not on the court and I may not be on Thursday either. I wish more than anything that I was out there. I just want the green light to play."

Sixers coach Brett Brown once said that Embiid's competitiveness "stands out", and perhaps the only thing that allowed the 24-year-old to sit down comfortably when he was on the sidelines was watching his team continue the 17-game win streak they began before his injury.

Unfortunately for the Sixers, that run came to an end on Monday but, fortunately for Embiid, he was back on Thursday to help his team get back on track.

"It was hard, but it wasn't as painful because I knew we were winning," Embiid told ESPN regarding his absence after the Sixers' 128-108 Eastern Conference Game 3 win over the Heat to take a 2-1 series lead. "But when we lost, I was like, 'No. It's time to come back'."

He scored 23 points at the American Airlines Arena in his first career play-off game, while Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli added 21 points each with Game 4 looming today.

AN EYE TO SAFETY

It was annoying. But that was the only way I could play in this game, if I wore the mask and protected my face with goggles.

JOEL EMBIID of the Philadelphia 76ers, on the carbon-fibre mask-and-goggles combination that ensured protection.

Embiid was forced to wear a protective mask and he went through three different masks during the game, looking uncomfortable at times in the first half.

"It was annoying," he said of the black carbon-fibre mask. "But that was the only way I could play in this game, if I wore the mask and protected my face with goggles."

He added of his return: "I'm going to be a nightmare for (the Heat). I hate sitting out. I felt like it was time to come back. I love this moment. I love being physical. I love attacking. I'm glad they let me play."

Many thought Embiid would be out of the line-up for longer, due to the severity of his injury. He had to get a doctor's clearance from the team and league approval for the mask and goggles, which slipped off his face a couple of times.

"I am just so proud of what he did," said Brown. "The professionalism he showed and him doing whatever he could to return to play. And it's not like there's a clear vision line out of the mask, it has a protective lens in there as well.

"For him to come back under that situation to lead us to a road play-off win, I'm very proud of him."

In San Antonio, NBA champions the Golden State Warriors had two injury scares after already playing without star guard Stephen Curry.

But the ankle injuries suffered by Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appear to be minor.

Durant scored a game-high 26 points in the Warriors' 110-97 Game 3 victory against the San Antonio Spurs, while Livingston added 16 points in 20 minutes off the bench.

Golden State now lead 3-0 in the Western Conference first-round series. No team have ever rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA play-off series.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant and Livingston: "Both sprained ankles, but I think they'll be all right."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2018, with the headline 'No masking Embiid's deep desire'. Print Edition | Subscribe