Masked, Joel Embiid Helps Sixers Get Back On The Ground In Heat Series

Just in case Joel Embiid needed someone to remind him of the list of injuries and ailments he’s been dealing with, Tyrese Maxey made sure they were all on the podium after the Sixers’ Game 3 win over Miami. And he did so while saving a joke for the big man.

“He’s a soldier,” Maxey said. “Thumb, mask, I mean concussion, face, broken face, it’ll make him look even uglier now.”

‘I just asked him a few times: are you okay? Do you promise you’re good? At the end of the day, basketball is extremely important to all of us and it’s our job, but you want someone to be the best they can feel in life in general. I don’t want him to be in pain or anything… but like I said, he’s a soldier. I mean, I think he played 36 minutes. That was great for us.”

Who could contradict that assessment on any front? The big man, despite a relatively quiet line by his standards, was huge for Philadelphia. And while the home crowd was excited about his return, showering him with cheers and “MVP” chants whenever they had the chance, early in the game you could feel some nerves and anxiety, palpable uncertainty as to whether he should be there or not.

For Embiid, that was never a big debate, at least as long as he could be approved by the doctors. He believes the Sixers have a chance to still do something special for them, and he doesn’t believe he is endangering himself by playing and playing on the floor.

“It was a struggle,” Embiid said, “really because of the concussion and dealing with some of the symptoms. But I’m glad it went away and I’m glad I’m back.”

“I really want to win and I feel like we have a great chance of winning everything. Obviously we have to stay healthy and all play well at the same time. We all have to be damn near perfect. So to me that’s what that’s for I signed up, and whatever it takes [for] me to win, that’s what i’m gonna do…d2-0, I really had to do everything possible to be there, no matter how much I was feeling. I’m just happy we got the win.”

A cursory look at the box score doesn’t say much about the impact Embiid had on this game. For all the admiration he received this year after leading the league in scoring, Embiid’s greatest play off the impact has almost always come on the defensive side.

With Marc Gasol giving him attacks during their battle with Toronto in 2019, Embiid’s ability to lock in the paint and defend an attacker in Pascal Siakam was a big part of staying with the champions for seven games. Embiid doesn’t like people forgetting that defensive impact – his big stated goal for getting into the league was to win a Defensive Player of the Year award, thinking he might never be good enough to compete for MVP trophies.

Embiid watched from home and said he couldn’t help but see the impact Bam Adebayo had during the first two games of this series, he did a little bit of everything (and did it for everyone) while Embiid wasn’t available to play. Embiid’s return coincided with Adebayo crashing back to earth – Miami’s DPOY candidate finished with nine points on 2/9, three rebounds, five errors and a -22 in the box score.

Embiid leaned quite a bit back in the drop and was able to fend off drivers and then seal off the space for Adebayo all night, either forcing a miss or preventing an attempt in the first place. Adebayo, who has feathers to spare, seemed hesitant to take to Embiid’s skies towards the end of the game, allowing his counterpart to put an exclamation point on victory with a huge block:

Aside from Jimmy Butler’s big night, Embiid’s ability to serve as a wall in the back made it a lot harder for the Heat to take offense, and that was mentioned by nearly everyone on the Philadelphia side who spoke after the win. as the key to victory game.

“He’s a huge factor even when he doesn’t score,” Danny Green said Friday. “It’s a big difference when he’s guarding Bam and can restrain him a little bit, and also be able to engage Jimmy and guard different guys. To be able to block shots, bounce back and do those things defensively.”

“He’s the anchor, he knows all the news and he talks to us,” Maxey said. “He’s six feet tall, he’s a big body down there, it’s hard to go in there and run into him, and he makes it difficult for the opponent. We really appreciate him.”

“I’ve been saying it all year. You could tell his timing was a little off, but his defensive presence, I don’t think he gets enough credit.” [for] how good he is a defensive player and how much he helps us,” Rivers added.

Embiid emphasized on Friday that the defensive focus for him is partly out of necessity. The big man noted that he doesn’t feel like he needs to see everything to make an excessive impact there, while his vision matters more on offense when he’s trying to take down shots. That might be a bit of a deception to put on paper on a mediocre night of shooting, but the good news is Embiid thinks the gear he’s wearing isn’t such a drag this time around. The goggles he wore after the 2018 surgery, Embiid said, added a layer of frustration and issues with reflective lights.

It was harder sledding to score the basketball. Even the aesthetics weren’t great on offense – Embiid had a laugh after the game when asked about the mask’s influence on his play, noting that at one point during Game 3 he had a wide open shot. obviously fought it a bit and also gave credit to the Heat as they were able to displace him and prevent him from penalizing Switches as they continued to use many of the same coverages they used in the first two games.

That required some puzzling from the team, and the Sixers landed on a pet in the second half. James Harden jokingly accused me of giving away the game plan after the game, but I imagine the Heat is already gearing up to tackle more of the double screen in Game 4 on Sunday.

“If several guys are taking different actions, things tend to get mixed up and you try to create some confusion, some indecision on the defensive side to attack,” Harden said. “We found something and we just keep trying to find ways.”

That move did indeed cause some confusion at the Miami end, and Embiid throwing his weight around as a screener was part of the difference. On this property, for example, Embiid’s screen of Victor Oladipo allows Harden to turn the corner with a ton of space in front of him, Tyler Herro clambers back after Thybulle slips the second screen. By the time Harden gets to the elbow, he has several options: Georges Niang for an open corner three, or a pass back through the pocket to a blasting Embiid.

Miami’s wall of defenders is still there, trying to stop Harden from scoring the same way he did in Game 1 and 2. But they played on Philly’s terms rather than their own, and that was a big part of the difference in the late hours.

Evening the series in Game 4 is going to be a tougher task than the one they had before them on Friday, high on their leader’s return. The Sixers had a hand in steering Miami’s roster of shots and a poor offensive night, much like Miami did when Philly underperformed on Biscayne Boulevard, but trusting Danny Green to match Miami’s total three-pointers made is certainly not a recipe. for consistent winning.

Having Embiid in the lineup will give you multiple roads to victory every night. He’s a rim protector, an attention vacuum, a shotmaker, a walking morale booster, and the best player they’ve got.

I was so happy to see 21 hanging out in the locker room with his mask or whatever,” Maxey said on Friday.

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