Philadelphia 76ers: Even a maskless Joel Embiid couldn’t save the Sixers

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

 With their NBA playoff future on the line, even a maskless Joel Embiid couldn’t save the Philadelphia 76ers in crunch time.

Say what you will about the Philadelphia 76ers‘ performance in their Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics, but no one can say that Joel Embiid didn’t give it his all.

Though he did struggle at times in to remain productive in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, like missing all four of his three-point attempts in Game 5 or failing to fight for every rebound, Embiid proved once and for all that he’ll do anything to help his team win, even if that means putting his very body on the line.

After being forced to wear a protective mask to even play in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, following a late-season injury to his orbital bone that required surgery, Embiid tried his best to remain productive at both ends of the court, even with his vision affected, but unfortunately he simply couldn’t win the game on will alone.

But boy did he try.

More from Philadelphia 76ers

Following a solid first half to the game, Embiid went off after halftime, playing all 12 minutes of the third quarter, and almost single handily bringing his team back from a double-digit deficit into a one-possession game. Leading all players with a 27 point double-double, perfectly paralleling his frontcourt mate Dario Saric, Embiid’s ability to turn a game around quickly came into play and helped to confirm his declaration that he’s the best iso scorer in the league.

After taking a short break off the court to start the fourth quarter, Embiid was reinserted into the game with 8:35 left to play in the game, and actually helped the team retake the lead at the 3:30 mark, but once again, Boston fought back to keep things close.

Following an unconscionable missed wide open three by J.J. Redick, and a truly unfortunate turnover by Saric within the final minute, the Celtics retook the lead off of a Jayson Tatum layup, and lead Embiid to make a decision that could have had far more dire consequences than a lost basketball game.

With mere seconds left to play in the 2017-2018 NBA season, Embiid ditched his cumbersome mask, and gave the team his all on the final drive of the game, even with the everpresent risk of potentially reinjuring his orbital bone, or worse, potentially going blind in the process.

But for a player like Embiid, it was a risk worth taking.

Unwilling to give up the opportunity to win the game with the ball in his hands, Embiid fought off not one, not two, but three Celtics defenders while feverishly trying to get the rock into the hoop.

Related Story: The Philadelphia 76ers need a legitimate starting point guard

Though his initial shot ultimately didn’t fall, Embiid continued to fight tooth and nail for his own rebounds, and attempted one final time to put his team on top, before finishing out the play facedown on the sideline, his chances of forcing a Game 6 all but dashed.

Sure, the 76ers still had a chance to win the game, as a last-second Redick three got the team within one point, and a missed Marcus Smart free throw left the team down by two with 2.4 seconds to go, but without a timeout, Brett Brown was unable to write up an inbounds play, and the team ultimately had to settle for a Christian Laettner-esque Hail Mary that was ultimately picked off to ice out the victory.

And just like that, the game was over.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a truly disappointing end to the season, but after winning less than 50 games over the previous seasons, the fact that the 76ers finished out the season as the third seed in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, and did so on the backs of a pair of potential NBA superstars has to bring some solace to the evening.

While I’m sure the entire City of Brotherly Love would have, well loved to have watched their hometown team #PhilaUnite at the Wells Fargo Center for another game against their Eastern Conference rivals, the Philadelphia 76ers proved that they have one of the brightest futures of any team in the entire NBA, and a player willing to risk his very vision to help his team win.

Next: What’s happened to Robert Covington?

Joel Embiid, you are the very definition of Philly Tough.