Joel Embiid, Following Battle Against Inner Demons, Gives 76ers Life After Returning From Knee Injury

Joel Embiid, Following Battle Against Inner Demons, Gives 76ers Life After Returning From Knee Injury Apr 2, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) walks off the court after win against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid was not at his best in his first game back after a two-month absence due to a left knee injury. Despite that, he still managed to impact the game in a multitude of ways while helping the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.

Embiid filled up the stat sheet, finishing with 24 points, six rebounds, seven assists and three steals. There were also some mistakes mixed in, such as the six turnovers he committed. However, the most important thing was he looked relatively good physically in his first game back on the floor.

While Embiid is back on the court now, he went through some dark moments in his recovery from this knee injury.

“It was not a good ride,” Embiid said after the win, via Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire. “I will tell you that. Usually, when I have injuries, I just tell myself move on, on to the next one, get better, and fix it, but this one took a toll mentally with being depressed and it was not a good one. So, still not where I’m supposed to be, especially mentally, but I just love to play. I love basketball and I want to play, and any chance that I can be out there, I’m gonna take it.”

Embiid has had more than his fair share of injuries throughout his career. He missed the first two years of his career because of multiple surgeries on the navicular bone in his foot. The 30-year old has also dealt with orbital fractures, a hand injury and multiple other knee injuries. Perhaps the weight of another injury paired with significant missed time was the cause for this recovery proving to be more difficult than most.

“I don’t know,” Embiid said when asked what the reason for his depression was. “For some reason, this injury was just—I don’t know. It was disappointing. It was depressing. It took me a while to get over it and I still haven’t gotten over it. So just gotta take it day by day. Look at the positives. I’m back. So hopefully every single day try to get better and get back to myself.”

During these difficult moments, Embiid leaned on his family to carry him throughout his recovery.

“Family,” Embiid said. “Just looking at their faces. My wife and young Arthur. Waking up every single day and taking him to school, picking him up, playing with him all day. That kind of takes your mind away from everything that’s going on and then, obviously, watching the games at night, you got pissed off because you felt like you could help and could do something, but it’s all about family.

“That’s why I always say, basketball obviously means a lot and I love it,” Embiid added. “I love to play and it’s the best thing for me, but family also comes first and that’s the thing that got me through it.”

Now that he is back on the court, the focus and attention will turn towards ramping up his conditioning and doing all he can to propel the Sixers to a deep postseason run. He got off to a good start on both those fronts against the Thunder. The reigning MVP developed instant chemistry playing next to Kyle Lowry, one of the team’s mid-season acquisitions. Lowry fed Embiid with pocket passes in the pick-and-roll, setting him up to go to work at the elbow. The pick-and-roll with Embiid and Lowry is only going to improve as the two play together more.

Embiid is clearly going to take some time to fully ramp up his conditioning levels to where they were at pre-injury. He played in only 29 minutes against the Thunder, and he was running on empty by the end of the game. However, Embiid still had just enough left in the tank to make a few key plays late in the game. His defensive impact was extraordinary in the final few minutes of the game. In a positive sign for his mobility, Embiid rotated over from the wing to contest a Luguentz Dort layup, forcing a turnover.

Embiid then made the play of the game in the last 30 seconds. He was forced to switch onto Josh Giddey and then proceeded to steal the ball on a crossover attempt. The play sealed the win for the Sixers.

There are still things to clean up as Embiid re-acclimates himself on the court and with his teammates. The Sixers committed 16 turnovers and the offense looked funky at times against the Thunder. With just six games left in the regular season, there is not much time to adjust and smooth out any issues.

There is limited time left before the games truly matter. However, the Sixers’ situation is undoubtedly brighter now than it has been for the past two months. Embiid is back on the floor. His play and conditioning are only going to improve as he puts more games under his belt. With Embiid back in the fold, the Sixers are well equipped to go on a postseason run.

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