The momentum of the Sixers and Heat series certainly changed following the victory in Game 3. The return of Joel Embiid has revitalized this Sixers team and that continued in Game 4. Embiid was dominant from the opening quarter and tallied 15 first-quarter points. He ended with 24 points in the matchup and was incredibly dominant on the defensive end.
The Miami Heat were without Dewayne Dedmon who was suffering from a non-Covid illness. The absence of the Heat backup big man changed the Miami rotation and resulted in them playing much smaller. Led by Embiid, the Sixers were able to get the Heat in foul trouble and also created open three-pointers as a result of them packing the paint. Four different Sixers (Green, Harden, Maxey, and Niang) were able to connect on multiple three-pointers.
Ultimately the Sixers were able to secure a 116-108 victory to tie the series at two wins. The Sixers outshot the Heat by 28.5% on three-point attempts and imposed themselves on both sides of the ball. While the Heat fought to stick around for the whole game, it was another comfortable victory for Philadelphia.
James Harden’s Strong Play
The James Harden that Daryl Morey held out so long for was in the building tonight. The 10-time all-star and former NBA MVP had a throwback performance similar to his Houston Rockets days. He ended with 31 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds. Harden shot 6-10 on three-point attempts and proved to be the missing piece in the Sixers’ offense.
The Arizona State product fully came alive in the fourth quarter when he scored 16 of his points. There were several possessions that came down to Harden having to create with the shot-clock winding down and he seemingly capitalized on every one. His strong play led the Sixers to victory and with Embiid demanding so much defensive attention, the production was needed. There were concerns that this version of James Harden was no longer there, but his performance was a positive sight for the Sixers. If he can maintain this level of play the Sixers are a scary matchup to any opponent.
For the entirety of Joel Embiid’s career, the question has always been about surviving the minutes in which he is not on the court. The Sixers’ style of play greatly changes as their MVP is the most important player on both sides of the court.
This did not prove to be a problem in Game 4 as the Sixers were even able to extend the lead with Embiid on the bench. The most notable stint came at the beginning of the fourth quarter when the Sixers went on an 8-0 run to begin the period.
Paul Reed deserves a ton of credit for his performance in the matchup. His number were not eye-popping as he totaled just 2 points in 1 rebound in 10 minutes of play. However, his defensive impact certainly changed the game for the Sixers and allowed them to keep control of the game. Doc Rivers even experimented with playing Paul Reed at power forward with Embiid in the game which showed the early signs of success in the limited minutes it occurred.
The Sixers are back. It has been clear they are an entirely different team with Joel Embiid on the court. While the Sixers still need to win a game on the road in order to win the series, you are not in trouble until you lose a game at home. Philly was able to take care of business in front of the home crowd and even the series at two games apiece.
The Miami Heat have looked rattled since Embiid has returned and shot the ball incredibly poorly from the three-point arc once again. The 7-35 (20%) shooting performance from beyond the arc was simply not enough to get it done. It is a far mark away from the 37.5% they shot on three-point attempts this season which ranked number one in the NBA.
The impact of Joel Embiid has been especially seen on the defensive end. His elite offensive production oftentimes overshadows the fact that he is an All-NBA quality defender and that was shown in the victory. The Heat have had a much more difficult time running their offense since Embiid’s return and it has been the biggest reason for their success.
The series will head back to Miami on Tuesday for Game 5. It has now turned into a best of three series with both teams at about as full strength as they are going to get. The series is now turning into the thriller it was expected to be all along. Look for the Sixers to keep their foot on the gas and attempt to take control of this Eastern Conference Semifinal.
AP Photo/Marta Lavandier