This time, the pain was physical. Playing through an orbital-bone fracture (and torn thumb ligaments), Embiid had the basketball pushed into his face while going for a rebound. He dropped to the floor, peeled back his mask, covered his face and wept.
Soon, Embiid might again face the emotional weight of losing in the second round.
The Heat raced past Embiid and the 76ers, 120-85, in Game 5 Tuesday to take a 3-2 series lead.
Teams with home-court advantage up 3-2 entering a road Game 6 have won the series 90% of the time – 53% of the time in six games.
That Miami hasn’t won in Philadelphia shouldn’t alter expectations for Game 6 Thursday. When the home team has won the first five games, the team up 3-2 has won Game 6 on the road 58% of the time (and the series 91% of the time).
Tonight, the Heat jumped ahead early by playing swarming defense against a team completely unready for the pressure. The 76ers were listless and sloppy, frequently turning the ball over and ceding transition opportunities. Miami led by double digits the final 30 minutes and by more than 20 nearly the entire fourth quarter.
Jimmy Butler (23 points, nine rebounds and six assists) again led the Heat, but he faced far less of a burden than while scoring 73 points the last two games. Max Strus (19 points), Gabe Vincent (15 points starting for an injured Kyle Lowry) and Victor Oladipo (13 points) all provided positive minutes. Bam Adebayo anchored the defense, and Philadelphia never got on track.
Embiid (17 points) stayed in the game after his injury, but he was nowhere near his MVP-finalist standard. James Harden (14 points) fell back to his underwhelming new norm after a big Game 4. And no other 76ers outscored either of those two.
When he cried about Philadelphia losing to the Raptors in the 2019 playoffs, Embiid owned it. He has improved year over year since. He’s more capable than ever of leading the 76ers deep into the playoffs – when healthy.
But for one reason or another, Embiid just can’t avoid reasons for postseason tears.