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Embiid puts up 50, reveals Bell’s palsy diagnosis

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PHILADELPHIA — Not only did Joel Embiid set a playoff career high with 50 points to carry the Philadelphia 76ers back into their first-round series against the New York Knicks with a 125-114 victory in Game 3, but he did it while playing through Bell’s palsy, a condition that has affected the left side of his face.

“I think it started a day or two before the Miami game [in the play-in tournament], and I had bad migraines and thought it was nothing,” Embiid said after Thursday’s win. “It’s pretty annoying, you know, with the left side of my face, my mouth and my eye. So yeah, it’s been tough.

“But I’m not a quitter, so gotta keep fighting. But yeah, it’s unfortunate. That’s the way I look at it. But it’s not an excuse. Gotta keep pushing.”

Embiid said the condition has affected his vision at times, causing it to be blurry, and said he constantly has to put drops in his eye to keep it from getting too dry. He also said it’s unclear how long the condition could last, but that it could be weeks or months.

“I just hope that it could stay like this,” Embiid said before adding with a smile, “I got a beautiful face. I don’t like when my mouth is looking the other way.

“Like I said, unfortunate situation, but everything happens for a reason. Like I said, I gotta take care of myself mentally.”

Despite dealing with the condition, Embiid was able to put up a historic performance, one that backed up his emphatic declaration in the visitors’ locker room at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. After Philadelphia’s collapse in the closing seconds of Game 2, Embiid said that the 76ers would win the series.

After a foul-filled first half that saw two calls reviewed by the officials, including one that was upgraded to a flagrant foul 1, the Knicks held a three-point lead before Embiid responded after the break with arguably the best quarter of his playoff career, scoring 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting and going 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

Embiid had never made more than three triples in a playoff game.

“Just playing basketball,” Embiid said of his third quarter. “Like I said, I got lucky I made a few shots. But, you know, gotta keep taking them, pressure or not. Gotta keep trusting myself, especially because the physical abilities are somewhat limited. Gotta keep trusting myself since I made some, but I can’t rely on those. I gotta keep pushing myself to put myself in better situations to succeed.”

The physical limitations for Embiid aren’t just the Bell’s palsy, but also his continuing recovery from the knee injury that caused him to have surgery in February and miss two months. Embiid is still wearing a bulky knee brace, though he was moving well throughout Thursday’s game — and certainly better than for large chunks of the first two games of the series.

Asked whether he was able to trust his knee, though, Embiid said he is not.

“No,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep pushing. Like I said, I’m not going to quit. Even if it’s on one leg, I’m still going to go out there and try. But no, that’s not an excuse. Gotta keep playing better and better and better. Tonight I got lucky. I made a few shots. Gotta find a way to rebound, and I don’t even care about rebounds. I just gotta make sure that my man doesn’t get it, and then box out my man and take him out of the play.

“Whatever it takes to win.”

What it took Thursday night was Embiid setting playoff career highs in points, 3s made (5) and free throws made (19). Embiid became the first player to score at least 50 points in the playoffs on fewer than 20 shots and tied for the second-fewest shots in a 50-point game in NBA history, behind Adrian Dantley doing it on 17 shots in 1980. Embiid made 19 of 21 free throws.

And while Embiid admitted that he sometimes gets frustrated by the litany of injuries and ailments he deals with throughout his career, particularly in the playoffs, he said he’s trying not to let it get him down.

“I say it every day,” Embiid said when asked whether he ever says, “Why me?” to himself. “It is unfortunate. Every single year, you start asking yourself questions like, ‘Why?’ Every single year it’s … very annoying. Yeah. Maybe it’s just meant to be. Just gotta take it as it is. But the one thing I’m not going to do is give up no matter what happens. Gotta keep pushing, gotta keep fighting, gotta keep putting my body on the line, for my family, for this city, for this team.

“I can’t sit back and be like, every single time feel bad about myself: ‘Why me?’ Yeah, it goes through your mind, you can ask yourself those questions. But what are you going to do about it? Are you going to quit or are you going to keep going? And if you’re going to keep going, what are you going to do about it?

“The best thing you can do is do the best job possible to prepare yourself every single day, which I’ve done. And sometimes you get the results, sometimes you don’t. But if there’s one thing I say about myself, I’m not going to quit. And no matter what happens, if I win, if I don’t, I just know that at the end of when I’m done, I’m going to be proud of myself and my people are going to be proud of me.”

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