Philadelphia – James Harden took an exciting step forward in the 77th post-season with a step back 3 ths that resurrected his dominant form. Joel Embiid plays better in the game, and the best basketball player can be in the lead.
Embiid is ready. So is Harden. And if the Miami Heat can’t spot The Mask and The Beard, the next thing they face could be out of season.
“I don’t think we played our best basketball,” Embiid said.
Harden scored 31 points, Embiid scored 24 points and 11 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat Miami 116-108 Sunday night in Game 4 even in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Heat won their first two games in Miami with Embiid suffering a right orbital fracture and a mild concussion. The 76ers won games 3 and 4 at home with Embiid and his mask in the lineup.
Game five on Tuesday night in Miami.
Oh yeah, this time Embiid all the way. No wonder the 76ers are feeling better about their chances on this trip to Florida.
“Joel will be able to play,” coach Doc Rivers said with a laugh.
The Heat shot off the lead and scored within five points until Harden sank his third fifth pointer of the match three minutes before the end of the match. Harden crushed the Heat in 3 grabs and shoots and hit one shot after another for 16 points in the 4th. He finally played in the post-season like the three-time scoring champ the Sixers needed when they traded with him in February.
“Nothing has really changed,” Harden said.
Harden dug a step back 3 to deliver a 114-103 that sent fans into a frenzy – and the Sixers to Miami with new life. He finished with six 3s, nine assists, and seven rebounds.
“It’s just James, he’s James,” Rivers said. “I felt like he was going to have a big game tonight. You can only feel it.”
Jimmy Butler scored 40 points on 13 of 20 shots from the floor, 12 of 13 free throws, and nearly one man would win the Heat. The Heat, who fired 38% in 3 seconds during the season, missed 28 of his 35 three-pointers.
“I thought we had some really nice looks. We just missed them,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said.
Embiid designed Cobwebs for Game 3 and returned to the dominant form earning him “Player of the Season!” Hymns of Philly Puritans. His first quarter was as good as it is for the center. He made 5 of 6 shots, including 3 pointers, and scored 15 points to put the hexagram ahead. Exhausted in Game 3 from idle days due to a concussion, Embiid played every 12 minutes in the quarter.
This is a scary idea for Miami.
“We haven’t seen the best of Joel in this series yet,” Rivers said. “He’s still trying to figure out how to play with that sliding mask on his whole face.”
After a first goalless quarter, Harden continued Embiid’s hot start, scoring 13 goals per second. He missed the first four shots of the game until he buried 3 and then rolled. He scored a bucket in the transition during 15-2 innings and then waved his arms toward the crowd, calling for them to raise their voice.
Philadelphia hit 64% from the ground in the inning. But 10 turnovers – which Miami converted to 13 points – prevented the Sixers from expanding the lead well into double digits. The Sixers made nine 3s in half for four in Miami.
Butler kept the Heat in the match by six straight points. He was hit with a header, nailed in the face by Embiid – who was blown outrageously and then helped his former teammate to his feet – and Butler made the free throw. Butler scored 3 of possession and the Heat pulled back to 74-70.
Butler drew Embiid’s third foul by scoring 1:37 on the left in the third inning and diverting the three-point play that drew the Heat within four points. Butler took to Embiid on Instagram after the Sixers posted a photo of him in the mask and quoted a line from “The Dark Knight Rises.”
“(expletive) Yu Mask,” Butler wrote.
Butler scored 17 points in third, but the Heat still trailed 89-85. The 76ers fans let him have it when Butler fired a volley in the fourth inning and Harden immediately went down and scored a 3-step back to lead 97-85.
“He’s a good player,” Butler said of Harden.
Butler scored 33 points in Game Three and holds the Heat. He does it mostly alone.
Embiid, well, he has Harden.
“That’s why he’s here,” Embiid said. “It’s only 2-2. We have a lot of work to do. But I’m excited about what we can get done.”