Sixers scrap for win over Bucks and pray for the best as injury concerns rise

With injury concerns rising, Sixers scrap for win and pray for the best originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Joel Embiid made no attempts to sugarcoat Tyrese Maxey’s early exit Friday night.

“It sucks,” Embiid said after the Sixers improved to 8-7 with a 110-102 win at Wells Fargo Center over the Bucks. “What more is there to say? That’s three guys, between him, James (Harden), Tobias (Harris). Those are big pieces of our team, so it does suck. I’m just going to pray and hope that nothing is wrong from more imaging tomorrow.”

After scoring 24 points and dishing out five assists, Maxey suffered a left foot injury late in the second quarter and did not return. According to head coach Doc Rivers, Maxey wore a protective boot following the game.

Rivers spoke to the 22-year-old at halftime.

“He said what he always says: ‘Coach, I’m good.’ But I don’t know if he’ll be good right away, would be my guess,” Rivers said.

Down 13 points in the second quarter and seven at halftime, the Sixers came back to earn another Embiid-led victory. They’re now 4-1 since his return from a non-COVID illness and he’s averaged 38.4 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.8 blocks during that stretch.

He didn’t drag them to this win alone, though. Georges Niang scored 17 points off the bench, and Embiid was happy to heap praise on the Shake Milton-De’Anthony Melton backcourt. Milton wasn’t deterred by a poor patch in the second quarter, posting season highs in scoring (15 points) and assists (six), while Melton had 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

With the game tied at 99-all, he leapt to snag an Embiid pass with one hand before sinking a pivotal corner three.

“I had to get my Odell (Beckham Jr.) on, so it felt good,” Melton said with a laugh.

Embiid, who’s known to catch other NBA games on his phone soon after the Sixers wrap up, has admired Melton for a while.

“I’ve been a big fan since his Memphis days,” he said. “When we got him, I asked him, ‘What was your best game as a Grizzly?’ He didn’t even know. I knew that better than him. It was actually against Milwaukee. That’s how much basketball I watch. I’m always watching basketball and I happened to be watching that game against Milwaukee, and he was just killing it. He was a monster that game.

“That’s what we’re going to need from him. Big shot. Bad pass by me. Ball slipped, but he was still able to control the ball and make the shot. Those are guys that we’re going to need, and they’re going to show up.”

Even beyond Maxey, the Sixers’ injury situation is uncertain. Harden said Thursday he’s “on pace” in his rehab from a right foot tendon strain, but his return is not imminent. Furkan Korkmaz, who’s missed the last two games with a left knee effusion, described himself Friday as “day-to-day.” Matisse Thybulle only saw four minutes of action. He’s been dealing with an ankle injury and didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday.

Harris sat out his first game of the season because of left hip soreness. Though the Sixers listed Harris as questionable on their injury report in the afternoon, he never took the court for his typical pregame warmup routine. Rivers said he didn’t participate in much of the Sixers’ morning shootaround.

Melton has been sidelined for two games this year with back stiffness. Rivers was unsure whether he’d be available for the second leg of a back-to-back Saturday night against the Timberwolves, though the 24-year-old said he “hopefully” would play. Regardless, it sounds like that back issue is still present to some degree.

“I’m here to win games, so I’ll worry about all that other stuff later, after the game,” Melton said. “Once I’m out there, I’ve got some adrenaline going. I’ll be fine.”

If both Niang and P.J. Tucker play Saturday (and Maxey does not), they’ll be the only Sixers to have appeared in each of the team’s opening 16 games.

Rivers went out of his way to laud Tucker’s contributions, which included his dogged defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo (25 points on 10-for-22 shooting from the floor, 14 rebounds, four assists) on a frustrating night for the Greek Freak.

“It was an easy game for us to let go of the rope, and we didn’t,” Rivers said. “That’s what you love about this team. It’s funny, if someone didn’t watch this game, they’re going to look at the box score and they’re going to see P.J. Tucker: 0 for 1, four rebounds, two assists. And he may have been our most important player on the floor tonight. I said that to our guys and everybody started clapping, because they saw it.

“It’s a great example of how you help your team sometimes and it doesn’t have to be scoring. He was huge for us tonight in what he did. So good for him, and good for some of our young guys to see that.”

Tucker is the only current Sixers player with an NBA title — as a member of the 2021 Bucks. While he appreciated the shoutout from Rivers, he’s learned not to dwell on much, positive or negative.

“It’s cool — for tonight,” he said. “Get ready for tomorrow. NBA, man, you can’t think sometimes after good nights, winning games. … Reset your mind and get ready for tomorrow. Timberwolves are going to be tough, so my mind’s kind of transitioned to that already.”

Though Tucker is generally focused on the task at hand, whoever’s available and whatever the circumstances may be, he also is not oblivious to everything off the floor.

As Antetokounmpo’s free-throw misses accumulated on a 4-for-15 evening and Sixers fans cheered for chicken nuggets through the “Bricken for Chicken” promotion, Tucker requested an increase in volume.

“Yeah, how many championships do I got? Hello, make some noise,” Tucker said playfully. “Come on. I know we’re losing right now, but stick with it. And he missed them.”