«Sixers in 6». The pimply teenager has no doubts. He slams his prediction in the face of NBC cameras outside the Well Fargo Center. There are just a few minutes left for the start of race-4, yet another crossroads for the season in Philadelphia. But no one, for once, seems to be afraid. Call it the Embiid effect; or, more simply, the strength of despair. The fact is that, with half a foot in the abyss, the Sixers bring out the best pair of victories of the season. Overwhelming the Miami Heat on all levels – attack, defense, intensity, tactics – and giving the impression that perhaps, but perhaps, at the bottom of that complex equation, a result could also be hidden.
There are still many opportunities to remain disappointed, but at the moment hope is back in a great career. The one that kills you, of course. But also fueled by an evening of great emotions, which ends with the masked roar of Joel Embiid in midfield: the most recent dress of a Process that always seems on the verge of imploding, but somehow manages to continue. And so it’s back to Miami with a series that not only exists, but is also incredibly different from what seemed to be looming before the weekend. With the inertia hanging on the side of the Sixers, and the Heat suddenly having to look within. Especially to understand how to support an immense Jimmy Butler, who appeared terribly alone.
Everything goes, as it should go
After the thrust of Game-3, Game-4 gave the Sixers fans a taste of those moments strongly dreamed of and yet which seemed never to come: Harden’s paws, Embiid’s leadership, Maxey’s flashes and surgical shots of the supporting cast, led by a resurrected Danny Green from nowhere. And the thrust of a swashbuckling public, which promptly grasped, and adequately fomented, the fighting spirit of his favorites. Exalting himself for the defensive plays, as well as for the baskets. And giving a healthy dose of contempt to the referees, including a very personal choir “fuck Scott Foster”, dedicated to one of the referees – more of an Italian stadium stuff than an NBA arena, but who did a lot to give the most crystalline playoff atmosphere. And it matters little that the arbitration direction was decidedly up to par, albeit a little fiscal in the interpretation of certain contacts.
For Sixers fans, nothing was more pleasing than finally seeing James Harden’s long stretches and James Harden. The former Brooklyn finished with 31 points, 6/10 of three, and the decisive baskets that in the last minutes kept Miami at a distance, showing the decision that too often had been missed in previous outings. He continued to involve his teammates, as in truth he has always done (even too much) since he arrived in Philadelphia, but he also finally managed to guarantee a constant offensive danger, made up of baskets from outside (in the shirt Sixers had never scored six triple in a match) and timed penetrations. The ultimate aim of which was to find iron, rather than to gain a foul. Broadening the perspective, however, that of the Sixers was a real team victory. As shown by the six players in double figures – the whole quintet, as well as an excellent Georges Niang – and by the fact that the decisive groove, at the beginning of the fourth period, was dug when Embiid was taking a breath of oxygen. Finally proving that, even when your best player is on the bench, the rest of the team can still find a square of him.
In this sense, the revival is best exemplified by the rebirth of Danny Green. Epitome of the deer hit by the headlights in the two games played in Florida, he redeemed himself in a big way between race-3 (closed with 6 triples) and race-4. His change of course is perfectly embodied by the incredible basket scored at the end of the second quarter of yesterday’s match, with the score tied: a triple with a foul immediately struck in transition, with no one to rebound, the result of a motion of unconsciousness that only those who have full confidence in their own means can afford. It was that play that broke the balance for the first time, prompting the Sixers to take control of the situation. If the push continues in Florida, Philadelphia may have found the extra weapon.
the play that started “DANNY!” chants in The Center: pic.twitter.com/nkWdSat5Q9
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) May 9, 2022
Unconscious as the real Danny Green must be.
Needless to say, we would still be here talking about nothing if Joel Embiid was a rational person. That is someone who, with a torn ligament in the hand and a fracture of the orbit, makes the logical choice to stop and recover their physical functionality, before putting their health further at risk. But Joel is not normal. Neither for how he plays, nor for how he lives this sport. And so, as soon as the NBA rules granted him, the Cameroonian returned to the field. Crippled, masked, packed. But tremendously present. Transforming, by the mere fact of being there, a team adrift into a team ready for battle.
For all the Sixers fans, the approach to Game-3 had been essentially spasmodic doomscrolling. We are looking only for drafts on Embiid’s health, in a climate of neurosis that only sporting Philadelphia at its best is able to give. A succession of prayers, probabilistic inferences on the presence of the Cameroonian based on the Over / Under odds on the match, and uncontrolled rumors of an MVP trophy now awarded – so coarse as to make Fantozzi seem an amateur. The only updates of substance come from the usual suspects, Wojnarowski and Charania, and tend to improve: concussion overcome in the morning; firm will to play reaffirmed in the afternoon; and final green light close to the match, which gives the Cameroonian a more full-bodied ovation than usual on the descent into the field for the warm-up. The Wells Fargo Center is still an alcove for a few close friends, but the haggard crowd still vibrate the walls, laying the foundations for the battle that is about to begin. Only the first of a series of thunderous and well-deserved tributes.
Even on a tactical level, as well as an emotional one, the impact of the MVP candidate on the series is sensational. Predictable, but no less impressive. Embiid’s presence allowed Philadelphia to field a defensive plan worthy of the name for the first time in the series. At the same time managing to limit Bam Adebayo and remove the tons of carriage shots that I had represented the recurring motif of the first two games from the outside of Miami. The Cameroonian player dirties the pitches, stretches his hands, keeps everyone away from the area. And he does his duty even when he has to change on the outside, like when in the first quarter of game-4 he dirties Oladipo’s cross-over attempt, giving the Wells Fargo Center one of the most applauded plays of the game.
Amazing Defense from Joel Embiid on Victor Oladipo
Place was going wild
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) May 9, 2022
Because too often his offensive magnitude makes one forget his defensive impact.
Thinking about the future, the big question mark concerns more than anything else his offensive performance, especially now that the emotional wave of the return will be running out. At ease near the basket, he showed more than a few shooting problems, probably the result of the combined disorder of the injury and the mask. But he is improving, and both he and Doc Rivers reiterated the same concept: “We still have to play our best basketball.”
Although accustomed to the fluctuating trend of the playoff series, it is difficult to think of such a radical change of direction as the one observed between the last and the first two games, in which the Sixers had never given the impression of being able to even get to play the game. match. Even when the gap was minimal on paper, as after the first half of race-1. The first 96 minutes of the series had been the story of a comfortable health walk for Miami, adept at effortlessly capitalizing on the opponent’s defensive and offensive limits, especially when DeAndre Jordan was on the pitch. Notoriously not very dangerous more than a handful of centimeters from the iron, the former Clippers was essentially ignored by the defense in every situation of the two-player game, allowing the rear guard of the Heat to close the spaces on the perimeter to Maxey and Harden without taking particular risks. . And he was brutally exposed on the opposite side of the field, where his passivity reached caricature levels, as in the basket which he granted to Jimmy Butler at the opening of the third quarter of race-2 for the Heat. With the Sixers down by four points, and theoretically called to produce the maximum effort to get back into the game. With virtually no resistance, Bam Ademayo thus enjoyed two evenings of slaughter – 47 points, 15/20 from the field, a sense of omnipotence that had rarely been seen before, even on the best of evenings. And that he promptly vanished away from Florida.
As if the defensive situation weren’t complicated enough, the Sixers’ outsiders had seen fit to run into two nightmarish shooting nights, effectively rewarding Spoelstra’s choice to take the ball out of Harden’s hands and possibly get punished by the others. With the exception of Maxey, no one else had managed to make himself dangerous: totally renounced Matisse Thybulle, to the point of forcing Rivers to a couple of premature substitutions; inaccurate Furkan Korkmaz and Niang; and completely out of phase Green, who concluded game-2 with 1/10 from the field and -18 plus / minus, perhaps the worst game in his career, but also a great theatrical device for the explosion observed in subsequent releases.
And so for Miami it had all been too easy to be true – to the point that even among the winners there was a strange bitterness for a series that could be beautiful, but that instead didn’t even seem to be able to begin. It was felt when Jimmy Butler, on the eve of Game-3, had expressed the sincere hope of being able to play against Embiid, the player he considers the MVP of the season. He would be promptly satisfied, and with him the whole Sixers Nation. Who now looks confidently at the rest of a series that seemed closed and that instead with Embiid in the field is definitively reopened.