Joel Embiid is back and all is right with the world in Philadelphia.
From the opening tip Tuesday night, this felt like an old-school playoff game. It was chippy, with the referees futilely trying to use technicals to settle people down. Dwyane Wade was yanking on Justin Anderson’s arm away from the play. Justise Winslow was stomping on Joel Embiid’d goggles. Goran Dragic’s hatred of Marco Belinelli was on full display.
All of which is to say it was what we want in a playoff game — intense. No love lost. It was a battle royal for three quarters.
Then in the fourth quarter it quickly became a blowout. Because Philadelphia — with Joel Embiid back in the lineup — is that good. And that dangerous. Especially when they hit 18 threes on the night.
The Sixers won the fourth quarter 32-14, behind Embiid and Ben Simmons combining for 15 in the quarter and playing great defense. With that, the Sixers won Game 3 on the road 128-108. Philly now has a 2-1 lead in the series, with Game 4 on Saturday in Miami (and that game becomes vital for the Heat).
Embiid is a force of nature, even if he was showing some rust in this game after missing three weeks with a concussion and orbital bone fracture. Embiid was a disruptive force on defense from the opening tip, finishing with four blocks but that doesn’t begin to get into the number of shots he altered. His ability to make plays on the perimeter and recover is impressive and was on full display. Even in a mask, which he clearly did not like, as he told NBC Sports Philadelphia.
“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me, it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player. If the shots aren’t falling and it gets foggy or I can’t see, there’s a lot of different stuff I can do, especially defensively because I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the league.”
On offense, he led the Sixers with 23 points, on just 11 shots. He was 3-of-4 from three and got to the line for 15 free throws — Hassan Whiteside could not handle him in the paint, or when Embiid got the ball and drove.
When Embiid sat the Sixers’ pace instantly picked up, they were getting transition chances, moving the ball around and getting good look threes. Philly hit 18-of-34 threes (52.9 percent) and when the outside shots are falling it opens up the drives and everything the Sixers want to do in the paint.
It was a tale of two teams for the Sixers — one with Embiid, and a faster one when he sat — and Miami had trouble adjusting to the different but effective versions of the Heat.
Simmons finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. He also did this, which is some insane handles for a guy 6’10”.
Dario Saric and Belinelli each had 21 for the Sixers.
Goran Dragic playing his best game of the series, finishing with 23 points on 13 shots. Justise Winslow was fantastic with 19 points as a spark off the bench in the first half, and he was an agitator on defense.
The game was choppy for stretches, there were turnovers and an uneven feel to the game in the first half, but it was close with the Heat up 64-63 at the break. Both teams made runs, but the other always answered. It was close through the third quarter, too.
Then in the fourth, the Sixers found themselves on both ends, and it was over. The Heat play hard, play smart, but they don’t have the talent of the Sixers and when Philly finds its groove there is little Miami can do.