Al Jefferson leaves Sixers game with left ankle sprain, X-rays negative

Jefferson left the game early and in a wheelchair after suffering a left ankle sprain.

As the media was allowed in the Pacers’ locker room and most made their way to Al Jefferson’s locker, Paul George offered a tip to Big Al, one veteran to another, knowing that we would want to talk about his left ankle sprain.

The injury forced him to ride off the court and back to the locker room in a wheelchair with 9:43 left in the Pacers’ 107-94 win Sunday night over the Philadelphia 76ers,

“Cover up your foot,” George suggested. Jefferson appreciated the advice and reached to his left to grab a brown bath towel that he then used to cover up his left foot, wrapped tightly with an ice bag.

Jefferson suffered what immediately appeared to be a serious injury when he challenged — and won — for a rebound early in the fourth quarter.

“It was just an instant pain,” Jefferson recalled afterwards. “When you twist your ankle, like the way I did, you’re going to feel it right away. It was a bad pain at first. It’s calming down now. I’ve had worse.”

Up to that point, Jefferson, who played it cool postgame, was having his way against the inexperienced 76ers. It was his best game since back-to-back 20-point performances in mid-January. He contributed 14 points and seven rebounds in less than 11 minutes.

“Came down on somebody’s foot, I guess,” he said. “Anybody who knows when they roll their ankle like that, it’s the pain, it’s the thriving pain, and it’ll just take a minute for it to go down. Everything seemed normal, it’s just an ankle sprain. Just got to get through it. This is probably my fifth, or 600th ankle sprain.

“I’ve had so many that I kind of know how I feel. This is nothing for a basketball player. … It’s just a part of the game.”

Once Jefferson went down, and rolled around in obvious pain, the entire team made its way to the other end of the floor to surround him.

“We thought it was more serious,” said Paul George, who led the Pacers with 21 points and eight rebounds. “We thought possibly he broke it. We’re happy he walked away with just a sprain.”

Pacers head athletic trainer Josh Corbeil checks on Rodney Stuckey’s left knee after he limped off the court.

And while the X-rays came back negative, this surely will sideline the 6-foot-10, 289-pound center for multiple games with nine games left. He needed two crutches to make his way back to the shower and then had a walking boot waiting for him upon on his return.

Starting center Myles Turner was aggressive on the glass, and he posted his 12th double-double of the season with 17 points and 16 rebounds. The Pacers have won their last seven games against the 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Already, the team is without wing Glenn Robinson III for at least two weeks, and Rodney Stuckey also left Sunday’s game early due to a sore left knee. Thad Young’s left wrist, which has bothered him since February, has impacted his play. Especially his shooting.

“We’ve been going through this most of the year,” coach Nate McMillan said. “We’ve had guys play all season long who have stepped up. Rak (Rakeem Christmas) has stepped up, and Kevin (Seraphin) has played good minutes.”

Every game matters for the Pacers at this point. They ended a two-game slide and, at 37-36, have moved back above .500. They are in a three-way tie with Atlanta and Milwaukee, who they’ll play once more on Apr. 6, for spots five, six, and seven in the Eastern Conference. Because of tiebreakers, they are in seventh, two games ahead of Miami (35-38).

“For us, the playoffs start right now,” Jefferson added. “We can’t drop no more games just because we’re not playing well or we’re not playing hard. We got to go down fighting every night.”

Note: Former Pacer Jermaine O’Neal was back courtside for another game this season in Indianapolis. This time, though, he brought his son with him. After the game, he walked through the team’s locker room and spoke with several guys like Al Jefferson and Monta Ellis.

LISTEN: Podcast: Jermaine O’Neal on his passion for business, growing up with the Pacers, being a dad, and The Brawl

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