I know what you're probably thinking, why are those three names together? They are together because each of these players have phenomenal playoff performances while dealing with extraordinary circumstances. When the lights were shining their brightest, these players showed up even when dealing with tough ailments. Let's break down each one.
Game 6 Magic
Isiah had the infamous Game 6 during the 1988 NBA Finals in which he dropped 43 points, including an NBA record for a quarter with 25 in the 3rd, all while suffering from a severe ankle sprain that had him hobbling up and down the floor. Here is the story from nba.com
It was weird and courageous all into one, the sight of a player producing an all-time great quarter on one leg. Before he rolled his right ankle while assisting a Joe Dumars basket, Thomas had scored 14 points in the third quarter to start a Detroit Pistons rally.
After briefly leaving the game, Thomas returned and scored 11 of Detroit’s last 15 points in the quarter. The Pistons were down eight when he left and after he returned, they took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter. Without question, it was the second-most famous sprained ankle in NBA Finals history, and in some ways, it should be ranked No. 1.
Yes, Willis Reed gets plenty of deserved respect for walking out of the tunnel for the New York Knicks on his bum ankle in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, but Reed scored only two baskets (which, admittedly, did fire up the Knicks in the win). Thomas, meanwhile, was engaged in a tight game with a title on the line, and the Pistons needed him on the floor.
Thomas finished with 43 points and eight assists and at times was the best player despite the injury. The finish was controversial as a “phantom” foul by Bill Laimbeer on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave the aging Lakers the lead for good. With his ankle still stiff and bothersome, Thomas was a non-factor in Game 7, which the Lakers won. Many believe if not for the injury, the “Bad Boy”-era Pistons would have three titles instead of two.
— Shaun Powell
The Flu Game
Everyone knows the story of Michael Jordan's infamous flu game. If you live under a rock and are unaware here's a recap courtesy of Gabriel Fernandez at cbssports.com
Questioning the greatness of Michael Jordan is a fool's errand that only the smarmiest of hot-take edgelords would dare consider doing. Yet, one of Jordan's greatest physical accomplishments has been the subject of 'well actually-ing' and speculation since, well, the moment it ended.
We're talking, of course, about the "flu game." For the uninitiated, this moment of glory came in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals where a physically debilitated Jordan was able to put together a herculean effort, overcome an ailment that had him curled up in a fetal position and vomiting until the early hours of the morning, and help guide the Chicago Bulls to a 90-88 win over the Utah Jazz.
Jordan did not attend a breakfast he scheduled with Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper the morning of the game. Jordan missed his team's shoot-around prior to the game. Jordan arrived at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City just after 5 pm and spent pregame in a dark room vomiting before telling coach Phil Jackson he was ready to play. Jordan looked physically awful throughout the game but ultimately scored 38 points, including the game-icing shot, to help his team win and take a 3-2 series lead.
Time has changed the story a bit as did The Last Dance. Jordan wasn't suffering from the flu, but rather food poisoning from a late night pizza that may or may not have been tampered with by a Jazz fan in Utah. Nonetheless the performance is an all-timer.
This brings me to why Joel Embiid should be in this category. Joel suffered a torn meniscus during the first round against Washington. He wasn't expected to play in the beginning of this Hawks series, but he has. Not only has he showed up to play, but he's put the team on his back. Averaging 40PPG and 10RPG through these first two games. Astounding numbers for a 7 footer suffering from a major knee injury. Here's a great breakdown on exactly what Joel is playing through.
I've been tough on Embiid over the years as I felt he went soft when the times got tough. I've been silenced these last two games and I'm not upset about it. He's asserting his will on the Hawks and a good defender in Clint Capela. I know this Embiid isn't doing this in the Finals like Isiah and Jordan did, but nonetheless we are witnessing greatness in action. I can't wait to see if Embiid continues this level of play as the series moves on.