Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid continues to be huge difference maker in playoffs

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The battle between the Philadelphia Sixers and the Miami Heat during Game 4 in the first round of the NBA playoffs was the most physical game of the series thus far. By the end of the game, the Sixers emerged victorious after fighting their way to a 106-102 victory to take a 3-1 series lead.

Joel Embiid didn’t have his best game offensively finishing with only 14 points, but his 12 rebounds and five blocks were critical in securing the win on the road against the bruising Heat squad. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons led the team by being the first rookie since Magic Johnson in 1980 to record a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

J.J. Redick also came up big for Philadelphia after hitting a clutch 3-pointer to give the Sixers a three-point lead with 30 seconds remaining in the game. Then, Redick grabbed a clutch rebound off of a missed free throw by Dwyane Wade before calmly sinking two free throws of his own after the Heat fouled the wily veteran.

This game, however, was won because the Sixers simply refused to be bullied by the adversary. Although they committed 26 turnovers, they rose to the occasion and hit the Heat with a series of basketball’s equivalent of famed Philly boxing champion Joe Frazier hooks to the body, mainly thanks to Embiid.

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Game 2 in the first round series matchup between the Sixers and Heat saw the young squad from Philly getting roughed up for the most part, as the Heat tied the series up at 1-1. An injured Embiid was relegated to the bench while still recovering from an orbital bone injury and watched helplessly as his teammates fell victim to a much more physical brand of playoff basketball then the young Sixers team faced in their Game 1 win.

Postgame interviews and social media post saw Embiid very upset with the fact that his teammates, his brothers all season, were out there facing physical play, and he could do nothing about it from the sidelines. Fast forward three days to Game 3 in Miami and Embiid, protective mask and all, was cleared to play, in what was a physical Game 2 that evolved into a dog fight in Game 3.

In fact, this was a game that the young Sixers won by 20 points. The difference? Without question, it was big brother Embiid, as he roamed the paint and the big bad Heat of Game 2 wanted no parts of shooting anywhere near the paint. Embiid finished with three blocks in the game, but it was glaringly apparent that the Heat players pretty much avoided the paint when Embiid was in the game.

Embiid seems to welcome the physical play and has shown that he plays with an extra fire when his opponents talk a little smack to him. After distancing themselves in the fourth quarter en route to a 128-108 win, it was evident to the Heat that with Embiid back in the lineup, they were no longer going to be able to push the Sixers around any longer. Oh, they tried at times, resorting to WWE tactics, and even tried to destroy Embiid’s protective mask as part of the goggles laid in the middle of the court. But as Embiid said in his postgame interview, it was going to take a lot more than that to get him out of this series. He vowed to be a nightmare to the Heat now that he was cleared to play with his brothers on the court.

Embiid pulled the ultimate sign of setting up shop in enemy territory when he set his massage table up on the sidelines of Heat court. Former Sixers great, and now basketball analyst Charles Barkley says that he hasn’t seen anything like that in the 30 years of him playing and covering professional basketball. Hall of Fame center, and fellow analyst Shaquille O’Neal says it was the ultimate sign of disrespect and that he would be heated if he saw an opponent set up shop like Embiid did.

Only a man sure of himself, sure of his ability and totally not concerned with his opponent would dare risk making such a statement. With Embiid back in action the Heat have to turn it up a notch more in the physicality department and turn it up they did with the referees having a very busy day, but the Sixers were not to be denied.

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Now that the Sixers have won two very tough games on the road, it will be interesting to see how this win propels their confidence in each other and helps them as they continue along their playoff push to the Eastern Conference Finals. Big brother Embiid is back in the building, and the NBA is officially put on notice that these Philly tough Sixers will not be pushed around, because they have the bully wearing the red, white and blue.