Home News Kristian Winfield: Knicks must take advantage of Joel Embiid’s limitations after Game...

Kristian Winfield: Knicks must take advantage of Joel Embiid’s limitations after Game 1 injury scare

Whatever percent healthy Joel Embiid was before Game 1 between the Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday evening, slice it in half.

Embiid — one of the most dominant centers in all of basketball — flexed his particular brand of dominance with under three minutes left in the second quarter when he used an off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself to shed one Knicks defender (Mitchell Robinson) and posterize another (OG Anunoby).

And then he grabbed at his left knee and crumbled to the ground.

The same left knee he underwent midseason surgery on to repair a meniscus in early February.

Embiid laid on the floor with his hands fixed on his forehead as the Knicks pushed the ball and scored off his made dunk.

The Sixers then called a timeout and team trainers escorted him to the locker room.

No Embiid. No shot.

The Knicks dominated minutes the reigning league MVP spent off the floor in Game 1. They won his resting minutes, 11-6, at the top of the second quarter then closed the period on a 9-0 run after he left the game due to injury.

Those non-Embiid minutes were few and far between. Like a prize fighter — or maybe more like Paul Pierce — the star center emerged from the tunnel a full go.

Embiid started the second half for the Sixers and played the entire third quarter before his scheduled rest at the top of the fourth. The Sixers chances at winning Game 1, let alone the series, plummeted with his injury then rose from the concrete with his emergence from the locker room.

And for the Knicks, the gameplan should be simple: Embiid underwent surgery in early February, aggravated his left knee in his final game of the regular season, then injured it again in the first half of Game 1.

The Knicks must take advantage of Embiid’s gimpy knee, be it with physical play or running him through actions to test his lateral movement.

It’s their only way to return to the second round of the playoffs against a Sixers team effectively deploying the best player in the series.

Embiid scored 15 points in the first quarter alone and had 18 first-half points before leaving the game with just under three minutes left in the second period. He was a step slow in Philadelphia’s Play-In Tournament victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday and was still visibly limited in the first half on Saturday before his awkward landing on a generational poster dunk.

“Obviously, if you’re averaging 34 points a game or 35 points a game, you’re an elite scorer. And [Embiid] does it a lot of different ways,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau ahead of tipoff on Saturday. “So, he can shoot the ball. He can put it on the floor. He can post up. He can offensive rebound. And so, we have to guard him with our team. We gotta try to make him work for his points. He’s gotta see people, and then we’ll go from there.”

And after turning his knee, Embiid resigned himself as more of a jump shooter, with shots falling well short due to his first half injury.

Which made him much more comfortable of a defensive assignment for Mitchell Robinson, whose size, length and athleticism helped combat a limited Embiid in the second half.

The star Sixers big man shot 6-of-11 in the first quarter but shot 2-for-11 the rest of the night.

Embiid’s knee is now on inflammation watch. Heat star Jimmy Butler suffered a similar injury in Wednesday’s matchup against the Sixers.

Like Embiid, he left his feet to finish around the rim.

Like Embiid, he crumbled to the ground and grabbed his knee after landing.

And like Embiid, Butler returned and gritted through the rest of the game with a shot to help his Heat earn the No. 7 seed.

An MRI later revealed Butler suffered an MCL sprain. He is out multiple weeks — after playing on an injury seeming severe in the moment.

The Knicks won Game 1, and while Embiid’s status going forward is unclear, it’s clear the star big man is limited, playing at a deficit on a leg-and-a-half.

New York must take advantage — both of Embiid’s limitations and his minutes off the court. A series against a scrappy and resilient Sixers team will depend on it.


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