For the first three games of the Philadelphia 76ers' second-round series with the Atlanta Hawks, you would have had no idea that Joel Embiid was playing on a partially torn meniscus. In Game 4 on Tuesday night, however, it was painfully clear.
Though he finished with 17 points and 21 rebounds, which would be amazing numbers for 95 percent of the players in the league, he wasn't his usual dominant self. He shot just 4-for-20 from the field, including an 0-for-12 performance in the second half. By the high standards he set early in the series -- 35.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in Games 1-3 -- it just wasn't good enough from Embiid.
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His night was made worse by the fact that he missed a layup in the closing seconds that would have put the Sixers in front, and potentially won the game. Afterward, Embiid admitted that his knee was bothering him, and under normal circumstances, he would have gone up to try and dunk the ball instead.
"Great look. Great look. I just didn't have the lift," Embiid said. "Thought I got fouled, too. But usually I would go up, especially for a bucket like that, try to dunk it. Try to get fouled and get an and-one. But ... not being able to jump for obvious reasons. ... It's tough."
During Game 4 of the Sixers' first-round series with the Washington Wizards, Embiid landed awkwardly on a drive to the basket, and partially tore his meniscus in the process. He missed the team's series-clinching win in Game 5 but returned to action for the series against the Hawks.
Through the first three games, he was terrific. However, it was clear early on Monday night that he was struggling. He was often settling for jumpers -- 13 of his 20 shots were outside the paint, and only two came at the rim -- and had to go back to the locker room at one point in the first half.
"I guess it's already known," Embiid said about his knee bothering him. "Don't need to explain ... I'm just trying to do the best I can. I thought in the beginning of the game, when I went back to the locker room, I just felt like I didn't have it tonight."
From the beginning of this process, the Sixers have made it clear that Embiid's status would depend on pain and symptom management. Game 4 was the first time where they weren't able to keep things under control. Whether that was a one-time thing, or the beginning of a downward trend remains to be seen. Hopefully, for the Sixers and Embiid, it's the former.