How will Joel Embiid’s injury impact the rest of the Knicks vs. 76ers series?

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid hurt his knee in the second quarter of the New York Knicks’ 111-104 Game 1 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, changing the complexion of their first-round series.

Embiid came down and hobbled on his left knee after throwing an alley-oop to himself off the backboard and finishing a dunk with 2:49 left to go in the second quarter. The oft-injured center is now dealing with his second injury of the year after missing two months of the regular season with a meniscus injury on the same knee.

Just how much is the series impacted by the reigning NBA MVP’s knee ailment?

Knicks: Joel Embiid’s efficiency tapered off after returning from a knee injury in the second half for the Sixers

Embiid was able to return to action after being taken to the locker room. That is a plus for Philadelphia and nothing to shake the head at, as injuries are never wished on any player. Further, the Cameroonian center was able to produce 11 of his 29 points in the second half, only missing just over three minutes of action.

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

New York’s front line had their hands full with Embiid in the first half. He made his first three baskets including two and-ones and went 6-11 before going down. The second half is where he went 2-11 despite staying aggressive and drawing fouls. All things considered, the injury proved to wear on him a bit and impact his efficiency.

What adjustments will the Knicks and 76ers make with Embiid’s injury the story for Game 2?

At face value, the 2024 NBA All-Star seemed to move fine in the final 24 minutes of play. Albeit, Sixers head coach Nick Nurse did not rule out the possibility of shutting Embiid down when questioned after the game. But moving forward, the infirmity could impact the outcome of the series for the Knicks.

On the Knicks’ end, their defensive approach remained the same once he returned, and will likely stay its course in Game 2 as Josh Hart attested to postgame, per James Herbert of CBS Sports:

“Obviously, a hell of a play on his end,” Hart said. “But it didn’t change anything with our thought process.”

In the short term, the Knicks will have to be wary of Embiid’s ability to continue finding success in close. Drawing double teams and attracting attention allowed him to go +10 in the plus/minus department in the second half, despite his shooting woes.

Tobias Harris also struggled mightily with only seven points in the game. Therefore, if Harris finds his stroke in Game 2 and Embiid’s teammates rally around him, he’ll be better positioned to kick out and find open men when trapped.

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

How the Knicks can replicate their success in Game 1 and keep their foot on the gas when the series shifts to Philadelphia

The Knicks should find success employing much of the game plan they executed against him in Game 1 on Monday night. Throwing every big body they have at him, chiefly Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson, is their best recipe for success, though Jericho Sims and even Precious Achiuwa could see time in their next outing.

Additionally, staying home on the 76ers’ other potent scorers will put more pressure on Embiid to make things happen on what could be a bum leg depending on his injury status ahead of Game 2.

In the Sixers’ Play-In Tournament victory over the Miami Heat, Embiid did struggle to corral the ball in addition to committing three turnovers. Fronting the big man and taking him out of his comfort zone from a physicality standpoint could also force coach Nurse’s hand to be cautious with his minutes and his workload down low.

No matter, once the series shifts to Philadelphia, the Kansas product will have his home court behind him, where he’ll likely shoot better from outside. The Knicks will have to maintain him from deep to keep him from catching fire on other areas of the court. For now, Game 2 could prove favorable for their hot hand as they look to capitalize for a 2-0 series lead.

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