Embiid questionable for Sixers-Knicks Game 2; Nurse wants better showings from role players

Embiid questionable for Sixers-Knicks Game 2; Nurse wants better showings from role players originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

NEW YORK — Sixers head coach Nick Nurse passed along the word about Joel Embiid.

“I asked him how he’s feeling and he said, ‘Pretty good,’” Nurse said early Sunday afternoon.

That question was even more pertinent than usual because of how Saturday night played out for Embiid.

He left the Sixers’ playoff opener against the Knicks late in the second quarter after appearing to injure his left knee again. Though Embiid returned to the court just before the third quarter began, he shot 2 for 11 from the field in the second half and the Sixers suffered a Game 1 loss at Madison Square Garden.

The Sixers officially listed Embiid as questionable with a “left knee injury recovery” designation for Game 2 vs. the Knicks on Monday night. They’ll continue to be without De’Anthony Melton (back injury recovery) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise).

While the Sixers dropped to 32-9 overall when Embiid’s played this season, they outscored New York by 14 points Saturday in his 36 minutes and 32 seconds.

Asked about the Knicks’ second-quarter spurt with Embiid out, Nurse shared his two cents on the officiating.

“They ran into some threes pretty quickly to start,” Nurse said Sunday. “That got ‘em going. And they shot a million free throws in the second quarter. It seemed like all of a sudden, it was free-throw time. I haven’t seen that in any playoff game all year, yet here, all of a sudden, there’s a parade to the free-throw line.

“That didn’t help because then you’re obviously playing against a set defense every time down. So we’ve got to do a better job of letting them shoot, I guess, without contesting so hard.”

Kyle Lowry knows quick, sound decisions are essential for the Sixers offensively in Embiid-less minutes.

“We’ve got to figure out ways to play when he's off the floor,” Lowry said. “Play with some pace, play with a little bit more decisiveness. He's such a dominant force for us and we get comfortable when he's there.

“But when he's not there, we’ve got to find ways to get other guys involved, get the ball moving, play with a little bit more energy, and communicate a lot better.”

Nurse wasn’t inclined to detail specific adjustments the Sixers may roll out Monday.

Still, he did not dismiss a question about potentially giving backup center Paul Reed some time alongside Embiid to fortify the Sixers’ rebounding. New York crushed the Sixers on the glass in Game 1, posting 26 second-chance points.

“I would say that’s a possibility, yes,” Nurse said.

In terms of individual performances, Nurse believes several Sixers are capable of significantly better showings.

That includes Tyrese Maxey, who scored 33 points on 14-for-26 shooting but needs to “play harder” and “play more physically,” according to Nurse.

Tobias Harris produced just seven points on 3-for-7 shooting in Game 1.

“He needs to get involved,” Nurse said. “Nico (Batum) needs to get involved, Kelly (Oubre Jr.) needs to get involved, Buddy (Hield) needs to get involved. There’s a lot more people who need to get involved.”

Hield played only 11 minutes Saturday and went scoreless in his playoff debut.

“Listen, Buddy didn’t get much of a chance last night,” Nurse said. “He did have a couple plays there. He didn’t play (well). It’s a game where you can’t extend minutes when a guy has three or four mistakes.

“But I do say this: He’ll be a factor in the series. He could have just as easily made that wide-open three, then hit another one the next time down the floor, like he does. But he didn’t. We kind of gave him his chance to impact it and then we had to get back to somebody else.

“But he’ll be a factor. I think Kelly can play a lot better, too. I don’t think he was nearly the athlete he needed to be last night, and I think he understands that. Kelly has very, very little playoff experience too, so you can throw him in that boat. Hoping he can come along.”

One broad, team-wide bright spot Saturday was the Sixers’ sharp, Jalen Brunson-focused zone defense.

Although schematic tweaks appear to be in store, it seems likely the Sixers turn to zone again Monday in their efforts to even the series.

“Obviously it was really good, right?” Nurse said. “I think it was a really good stretch of the game — from going down a lot to going up a bit. A lot of that was caused by (the zone). It helped us on a lot of fronts.

“I’d still like to do some things better; we made some mistakes in it. And there’s a couple other little adjustments we’d like to make along those lines, too.”