76ers, Jazz head home in tied series with ailing stars

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid reacts after fouling Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young in the final minutes of Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series on Monday, June 14, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid and the 76ers barely have a leg to stand on. Embiid can’t jump. He can’t get any lift in his shots — notable in a blown layup that should have won Game 4 — and couldn’t make any buckets in the second half.

Embiid is day to day.

So, now, are the top-seeded Sixers.

Embiid continues to suit up and play through torn cartilage in his right knee — admirably, perhaps — but at the point of diminishing returns for the Sixers. The big man is hurting as the Sixers return home Wednesday for Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks. Embiid and Ben Simmons’ failures in Game 4 keyed the Sixers collapse down the stretch and let the Hawks pull away with the win and tie the series 2-2.

The Western Conference semifinals between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. The Jazz return to Salt Lake City with their young star Donovan Mitchell playing with a sore right ankle and all the momentum in the series now with the Clippers. Los Angeles dominated Utah in in Game 3 and Game 4 in California.

A day off could help Mitchell more than Embiid.

The 76ers leader spent time in the locker room in the second quarter Monday and was 0-for-12 from the field in the second half. With the 76ers trailing 101-100, Embiid missed an easy look on a layup that he normally would have dunked home for the go-ahead bucket.

He finished with 17 points and 21 rebounds.

“I’m just trying to do the best I can,” Embiid said after the game.

The All-Star center wasn’t the only slumping against Atlanta: the 76ers blew a 13-point halftime lead, made only four baskets — four! — in the fourth quarter, and scored only 38 points in the second half.

It’s hardly a resume worthy of the East’s top seed.

The Sixers took a day off from practice Tuesday and kept it to a Game 4 film session. The review was ugly. Coach Doc Rivers said a case of “hero ball” popped up where players tried to win the game instead of passing to open players. Rivers said almost every possession down the stretch had a wide-open Sixer standing with his arms raised calling for the ball, all while it went somewhere else.

Rivers said Embiid will be out there for Game 5.

“We wouldn’t put Joel out there if he couldn’t play,” Rivers said Tuesday. “I’ll take what we have. I have no concerns.”

76ERS AT HAWKS

Game 5, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Sixers are 6.5-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Sixers blew an 18-point lead and the Hawks rallied to beat the 76ers 103-100 in Game 4 and even the Eastern Conference semifinal. The Hawks committed only four turnovers to lead a stout defensive effort. Clint Capela had 12 points and 13 rebounds while leading the defensive effort on Embiid.

“The fact we had a chance to win was unbelievable, even with the lead,” Rivers said.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: With Embiid ailing, Simmons refused to take over and lead the Sixers to the brink of a series clinch. Simmons did not attempt a shot in the fourth quarter, and said nothing more than he could have “been more aggressive and attacked more.” Simmons also continued to struggle from the free-throw line. He went 1-for-5 in Game 4 and just 18-for-52 in the playoffs. Sixers starters went 1-for-10 from the floor in the fourth quarter. Embiid’s ineffectiveness certainly didn’t help the cause. But Simmons has to attack, defend and hit big buckets in the clutch for the Sixers to close out the series and avoid an early exit.

“I just think we need to play right,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if any individual needs to step up. We stopped moving the ball. We stopped playing with any pace. That’s just not who we are.”

— INJURY WATCH: Young played with a taped-up, sore right shoulder and still scored 25 points, including a floater that gave Atlanta the lead with 1:17 remaining. Young made only 8 of 26 shots but had 18 assists, matching his career high.

“Trae is a guy who doesn’t talk much about his injuries,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said Tuesday. “Last night he came out early, it seemed like it had an affect on his game, his shooting, his touch. But the second half, he was able to fight through that and find his rhythm.”

— PRESSURE IS ON: The 76ers trailed by 26 points in a Game 1 loss and had their two best players come up small in a Game 4 loss. If Embiid is effectively playing on one leg, the Sixers are in serious trouble. Even if they get by Atlanta — and playing Game 5 and a potential Game 7 helps their cause — trying to make it out of the East with a banged-up Embiid and a timid Simmons suddenly seems like a tall task for the top team in the East.

CLIPPERS AT JAZZ

Game 5, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George each scored 31 points to lead the Clippers to a 118-104 victory over the Utah Jazz and even their second-round series 2-2. Donovan Mitchell led Utah with 37 points, making him the first player since Golden State’s Stephen Curry in 2019 to have six straight 30-point games in the playoffs. The top-seeded Jazz have lost back-to-back playoff games.

FanDuel Sportsbook has the Jazz as 3-point favorites.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Mitchell has hit at least five 3-pointers in five straight games and has pretty much carried the Jazz to a fifth game in the West semis. The Jazz are averaging 117.3 points, 43.0 rebounds, 5.1 steals and 4.9 blocks in the playoffs. The Jazz have held their opponents to 116.1 points over the playoffs. Mitchell is playing with a sore right ankle but kept the faith after a Game 4 loss. He posted Instagram photos of his teammates with the caption “Look out for those who look out for you.”

— INJURY WATCH: Even one day off could help Mitchell heal up before Game 4. G Mike Conley remained out due to a right hamstring strain.

— PRESSURE IS ON: The Jazz are headed home as the betting favorites. The Clippers have confidence, a winning streak — and Leonard and George. Leonard and George have each scored at least 20 points in all 11 games this postseason. They are just the third duo in NBA history to do that in a team’s first 11 playoff games and the first since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers in 2003. They’re coming to take down the Jazz.

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