In the aftermath of the Philadelphia 76ers’ 111-104 Game 1 loss against the Knicks, one play above all others captured the promise and the peril of this team’s playoff run.

It came deep in the 2nd quarter, one in which the Sixers could only muster 12 points. With Joel Embiid on the bench to start the frame, the offense disappeared as the Knicks rained down 3 pointers, feasted on 2nd and 3rd chance opportunities, and bullied their way back into the lead.

Embiid re-entered the game and, with under 3 minutes to play before halftime, took the ball at the top of the key. Dribbling to the foul line with New York’s Mitchell Robinson defending, the 76ers big man saw his opportunity, tossed the ball underhand off the backboard, and took flight for a highlight-reel slam dunk.

It’s a play Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards has made his own, and one Embiid pulled off back in January.

That was then, just before Embiid suffered the knee injury that would sideline him for 8 weeks, and this is now, 10 games into his return.

Embiid returned to the ground on his left leg, and he immediately grabbed his surgically repaired knee. The look on his face when the action was finally halted explained the situation better than any words could capture.

That’s the look of a man who’s been snakebitten by postseason injuries time and again.

Maybe the 76ers are cursed, victimized by residual bad karma from The Process era. It certainly feels that way sometimes. Maybe, on the other hand, big men aren’t meant to play the way Embiid can, and his knees aren’t equipped to handle the stress he places on them. Whatever the reason, this team once again finds its fortunes bound by the health of Joel Embiid.

They will go as far as he can take them. And there may be a limit to how far he can take them.

There’s no reason to break down or analyze any other aspect of Game 1. Sure, the Sixers did a decent job containing Jalen Brunson for most of the game. He finished with 22 points, but he shot an inefficient 8-26 from the field. In the guts of the game, Josh Hart woke up and hit two huge 3 pointers to seal the win. Rebounding continues to be a major weak point, and the Knicks feasted on extended possessions as a result. Tobias Harris was a nonfactor once again, and if he’s going to contribute nothing offensively, Nick Nurse needs to trim his minutes.

Sixers guards Tyrese Maxey and Kyle Lowry powered a third quarter run that put the 76ers right back in the contest. Maxey would lead all scorers with 33 points, his speed a problem that the Knicks could not solve all night. Knicks guard Deuce McBride, meanwhile, shot the lights out from beyond the arc, ultimately chipping in 21 points in a winning effort.

None of it really matters, not if Joel Embiid’s knee won’t cooperate. As the Sixers demonstrated over the past two months, the team isn’t competitive enough to win without the reigning MVP in the lineup. He showed some real toughness returning to the floor for the 2nd half, playing all but 4 minutes. He didn’t seem to have the same lift, however, and shots that usually find the bottom of the net fell short.

It just seems like the same story with this team and their franchise center, and we know the ending by now.