"Bully Mentality": Embiid Outduels Giannis With 42, Sixers Win Game Three Over Bucks
They’re not dead yet.
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NBA Playoffs, Round Two: Bucks Lead Sixers 2-1
Douglas Adams knew. Joel Embiid, the answer to life, the universe and everything, scored 42 points last night -- a playoff career high, and the most scored by a Sixer in the postseason since the other Answer (who did it nine times, six in the '01 playoffs alone, no biggie) -- and the Sixers won their first game of the series, saving us from almost certain postseason oblivion.
Not that it was in the slightest bit easy. Every little bit of Embiid's superlative, career-defining, fantabulous performance -- not just 42 points on 14-24 shooting, but 14 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, two steals and one roaring chest-slap of Old Man Knees that nearly sent him into the second row -- was needed in this one, as the Bucks refused to let the Sixers run away with it, even cutting the lead down to two with just over a minute to go. But a couple empty Milwaukee possessions and some Embiid free throws iced it for Philly, who won by a 122-118 final to finally get on the board in these conference semis.
Even with Jo hitting from all over, and actually getting fairly able support from perimeter shooters like Josh Richardson (4-7 from deep), Shake Milton (3-6), Tobias Harris (3-8, though all three makes in the first half) and Ben Simmons (nah just kidding, but he did attempt a 16-footer in the third quarter that bounced out), the Bucks always seemed to have an answer when the Sixers were ready to pull away. This was of course due in no small part by their own array of hot shooters, led by Brook Lopez (4-10 in this game, all from three), Khris Middleton (21 points with 3-7 from distance, slowed but still deadly) and George Hill (13-21 from deep in the series so far, forever determined to make me pay for that one time -- one time! -- I laughed about how bad the Bucks' trade for him was).
And once again, that guy Giannis. He scored over 30 in the two Milwaukee games, and even with the Sixers finally making a defensive adjustment in this one -- putting Joel on him to start the game, increasing Horford's minutes to help deal with the burden -- he made it three games in a row with his 38 last night. The strategy with Giannis Antetokounmpo and his big-man defenders was clearly to play off him whenever possible and let him fire away, particularly from long-two distance -- and he made the Sixers pay, shooting 15-27 on the night, including three wide-open triples. If there was a saving grace with the defense on Antetokounmpo it's that he didn't make it to the line as much -- only eight times, converting five -- but generally speaking, dude is for real for real.
But unlike in the first two games, he wasn't the best player on the floor this time: That would be Joel Hans "The Process" "Do a 180??" "Best Defensive Player in the World" "Hey Rihanna's Single Again Right?" Embiid. And he was that from the first possession, jab-stepping his way into a clean 17-footer then spinning past Lopez for a dunk the next time down. He and Giannis spent most of the game going at one another, and while the reigning MVP made Jo pay for playing off him, turnabout was fair play on that, as Embiid also hit three triples in this one — and got to the line 14 times to Giannis' eight, even costing the latter some third-quarter minutes with an early fourth foul. It was a classic seven-footers-with-handling-shooting-and-trash-talking duel -- the kind that most of the dudes in The Last Dance would've looked at as if they were Monstars -- and this time out, our guy got to play Bird to Giannis' Dominique.
Our friends Amos Lee and Mutlu are stuck at home like the rest of us. They joined us for a monster podcast talking about whether Joel and Ben will ever get it together, their friendship, drinking and sobriety, the future of music and how it finds a way through Covid-19, the best TV theme songs of all time, Mutlu's love for 94WIP and a lot more.
If the game felt closer than maybe it should've considering Embiid's dominance and the relatively hot perimeter shooting, the uncharitable Process Trusters of the world could probably lay that at the feet of Ben Simmons. Once again, Simmons played good defense on Middleton and posted a solid 14-9-8 line, but he still passed up a good number of open shots, and mostly seemed fine letting Embiid do his work solo in the post and on the perimeter. But one of the reasons the Bucks were able to keep the game close late was that once they started showing Jo some double-teams in the post, he would pass out and the ball would find its way back to Ben, who would try to drive in for a tough floater or sprawling layup that essentially amounted to a close-range heave. We've seen Ben make some real strides in these playoffs with his confidence and aggression, but in moments like these, you see how far he still has to go from the true cold-bloodedness most of us believe him capable of.
Nonetheless, it was a good win for a team who just desperately needed to put a 1 in the W column. Brett Brown, smiling like he'd downed a much-needed piña colada or three in the locker room before coming out to do press, was very happy to talk about his seven-footer placing the team on his sturdy shoulders.
"I mean, when you think about what he's gone through to get here -- all the injuries, all the drama, all the losing in those first couple years -- and now he's here, and he's outplaying the MVP, scoring 42, giving the home fans a show... it gets me a little misty to think about, I'm not gonna lie. He calls himself The Process, and when I look at him, that's what I see: all the years of hard work, all the character-building setbacks, everything it took for us to get where we are now. And it was worth it, I gotta say, it really was." (Kinda sentimental for Game Three when we're still down 2-1, of course, but given how much Jo got me in my own feelings last night, I'm certainly not one to judge.)
Told about his coach waxing rhapsodic in his press availability, Joel was touched, but somewhat less effusive. "I mean, I love Coach, everybody knows that. We've been through a lot together and he's always supported me, always stuck up for me. That's great, but you know, we've still got a lot of work to do. We've still got to win Game Four on Thursday, still got to play better on the road. We've shown we can beat these guys, and now we gotta kick 'em while they're down a little bit, you know, make sure we play with that bully mentality and not let them get back up." (Yes, that sound you hear is the noise of every T-shirt printing press in the Delaware Valley reflexively whirring to life at the mention of the phrase "bully mentality.")
So yeah, let's hope that the Sixers get a good day's worth of practice in on their pantsing and lunch-money-stealing skills tomorrow, and come back to the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night ready to put Philly knuckles to Milwaukee cranium. We came back home to win both of these games, and that's what we're gonna have to do to have a realistic shot in this series -- so if you're going to Game Four at the Not-Wells Fargo Center, be ready to cheer and boo (possibly both teams, we'll see) as if your life depended on it. And bring a towel.