Pros and Cons: Sixers vs. Heat Game 3
Joel Embiid is back.
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
After losing both games in Miami to start their second round series, the Sixers returned home to play host to the Miami Heat as Joel Embiid made his triumphant return to the floor. Here’s what stood out to me tonight:
Pro: Embiid returns
As he donned a black mask to go with the wrapping around his right thumb, Embiid pushed through immense pain in multiple areas to show up and give the Sixers their best chance at avoiding a 3-0 series deficit.
Normally, this is when I would pivot to the actual basketball analysis. But let’s skip that for now and acknowledge the incredible resolve Embiid has shown in the face of two significant injuries, both of which had the potential to be season-ending injuries.
We all know about Embiid’s lengthy injury history. We remember the multiple times (!) he has played through a torn meniscus, his first playoff run when he was forced to wear a mask, and everything in between.
For Embiid — who at times looked like he may never play an NBA game — to gut it out under these conditions is admirable. Regardless of how tonight’s game went and regardless of what happens in the remainder of this series, Embiid’s resilience is commendable.
Pro: Sixers (mostly) lock in on defense
With their offense a bit out of sync and watered down right now, the Sixers needed to bring the best defensive effort possible.
While it wasn’t perfect (more on this soon), for the most part they smothered Miami’s offense, giving great contests on Miami’s three-point shooters while having Embiid alter possession after possession with his interior defense and rim protection.
Tobias Harris had another solid game defensively, and after struggling mightily in the two games that took place in Miami, Matisse Thybulle was able to make a few standout plays on that end of the floor.
Where the Sixers need to be better, though, is on the defensive glass. Defensive rebounding has been a key weakness of this team since the departure of Andre Drummond, and Miami is continuing to exploit it to generate extra possessions.
Embiid being back in the fold should help mollify this issue to some extent, but when you’re playing against a team with guys like Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler and PJ Tucker, you have to be ready for the whole kitchen sink to be thrown your way. Players like those three know every trick in the book, and it’s imperative that the Sixers focus as much as they possibly can on clearing when they get a stop.
Pro: Sixers execute in fourth quarter, led by their 21 year-old
Well isn’t it nice to actually read that heading?
Miami cut the Sixers’ lead to just three points by the end of the third quarter, and it looked like a game that would go back and forth for the entirety of the fourth quarter, a true 50-50 battle.
But then, the Sixers did what they often fail to do: they went out and dominated the game’s biggest moments, staging a major run against Miami that helped them grow a deficit that would stand the test of time.
As so many fourth quarter runs this year have, this spurt was initially energized by Tyrese Maxey, who had just one made shot halfway through the third quarter. Maxey nailed three after three and scored in the lane over Miami’s excellent defense.
What might have impressed me the most, though, was a ridiculous acrobatic save Maxey made while running out of bounds, launching the ball over his head to get the ball to James Harden, who eventually assisted an and-one for Embiid.
The entire team deserves credit for this fourth quarter showing, though it is worth noting Maxey’s exceptional play down the stretch.
Bonus Pro: The Danny Green Game!
Green’s shooting in the two games in Miami, much like that of the rest of his teammates, was terrible. He couldn’t buy a bucket in Games 1 and 2.
Tonight, however, Green was so big for the Sixers that he earned an extra blurb from me -- clearly, the highest honor there is in sports.
Green hit six triples, helping perhaps more than anybody when it came to keeping the Sixers in front for the entirety of the game. He also hit a few late threes to help put Miami away.
Green recaptured the fifth starting spot late in the season, and while his play has been imperfect, he’s proven to be a much better option than Thybulle. Tonight, Green was able to put together what was, all things considered, likely his best game as a Sixer.