The Philadelphia 76ers fell 111-104 to the New York Knicks on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, losing touch late amid a barrage of threes from the home team's role players. Digging themselves out of a one-game hole isn't the Sixers' most pressing concern as what could be the most competitive, physical series of the first round of the playoffs continues, though.

Joel Embiid re-injured his surgically repaired left late knee in the second quarter of Game 1, coming down hard in traffic after completing a ridiculous self alley-oop right over the top of OG Anunoby. He immediately writhed on the floor in pain, laying flat on his back to catch his breath before walking gingerly back to the locker room.

Philadelphia's franchise player returned to the action for the second half, Embiid's mere presence ensuring his team had a puncher's chance to take Game 1. But the reigning MVP clearly wasn't himself in wake of his latest injury scare, finishing with just 11 points on as many shots after intermission while adding three rebounds and four assists.

Nick Nurse lauded Embiid's effort and persistence after the game, even expressing optimism he'd be available going forward. Still, he stopped short of assuring reporters Embiid would play in Game 2.

“I don't think so,” Nurse  said of Embiid potentially being shut down, per ClutchPoints' Sam DiGiovanni. “Listen, he's really a warrior and he's battling. I think he absolutely wants to play, but let's see how he turns out here tonight.”

Wanting to play, obviously, is a long way from being ready to play, with Nurse's qualifying language on Embiid's status for Monday's matchup stoking anxiety among Sixers fans and league followers everywhere. That he elected against fulfilling postgame media duties only added fuel to that fire.

The scene in Philadelphia's locker room after the game, though, suggests Embiid isn't too concerned about missing Game 2.

“The big man emerged from the showers donning just a towel and a pair of white sunglasses, in a relatively jovial mood in the circumstances. He held court by his locker with several teammates, from [Kelly] Oubre to Tyrese Maxey to Nic Batum, going over some details and potential adjustments to take into the next game,” reports Kyle Neubeck of PHLY Sports. “Without reading too far into demeanor and body language, Embiid did not have the mannerisms of a player planning to miss time during the series. Don't pencil him in the lineup yet, but don't begin the obituary, either.”

76ers dominated Knicks with Joel Embiid on floor in Game 1

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) walks off the court in the second quarter during game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Embiid was simply too much for New York on Saturday before going down with injury, looking every bit the historically dominant force who was a shoo-in to win a second consecutive MVP prior to suffering a meniscus injury in early February. He had 18 points, five rebounds and two assists in the first half, confidently splashing jumpers and aggressively putting the ball on the deck like he was feeling close to fully healthy.

Embiid was clearly laboring once he returned following intermission, far less active on both ends than be'd been before that scary second quarter tumble. Philadelphia was the better team when he was on the court regardless, outscoring New York by 10 points during Embiid's 20 second-half minutes. His +14 plus-minus was easily the Sixers' top mark, eight points better than Oubre's.

Embiid needs to do much more as a rebounder going forward, preventing the Knicks from dominating the offensive glass like they did in Game 1. There were many times Saturday he didn't give second-efforts defensively. It's hard to believe Embiid will be effective as an isolation scorer against New York if he can't consistently threaten the defense as a penetrator.

As has been the case throughout his tenure in the City of Brotherly Love, though, just being on the floor at all is often enough for Embiid to drive the Sixers to success. That proved the case in Game 1, even with the big man playing at much less than 100 percent for an entire half and the Knicks' role players and non-shooters lighting it up from deep.

Keep your fingers crossed Joel Embiid suits up on Monday night. His presence really could be all the 76ers needs to wrest home-court advantage from New York before this series shifts to Philadelphia—with a full two-day break before Game 3, giving Embiid extra time to rest his balky knee.