76ers

Sixers can't pinpoint clear reason for last-second loss to Lakers

Sixers can't pinpoint clear reason for last-second loss to Lakers

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The consensus around the Sixers’ locker room following their 107-104 loss to the Lakers was a failure to execute the game plan (see observations). They had two days after being upset by the Suns to map out a strategy against the Lakers, who they already beat once this season. 

However, that didn't matter as the Sixers' comeback bid Thursday ended when Brandon Ingram drained a wide-open three-pointer with 0.8 remaining on the clock to snap the Lakers' five-game skid.

So what went wrong? The thing is, there’s not one clear-cut error to pinpoint. The players saw the missteps from different perspectives. 

Lack of early defensive intensity
The Sixers gave up 32 points in the first quarter and trailed by 13 in the period. They let Ingram get hot as he scored 10 of his 21 points in his first 11 minutes. 

Rather than setting the tone at home, the Sixers allowed the Lakers to find a rhythm. 

“I think that we were just playing conservative,” Brett Brown said. “We were trying to play fundamentally correct and conservative and keep the game in front of us and sometimes, a lot of times, that isn’t always the answer. You walk that tightrope of, ‘Well, you lead the NBA in fouls,’ yet you want to play with a sting. So sometimes they contradict each other. Somewhere in the middle is what I wish we played more of and I think that’s part of growing our team.”

Lopsided offensive rebounds
The Sixers made limiting the Lakers’ offensive rebounds a point of emphasis leading up to the game. The Lakers were aggressive on the glass and dominated the Sixers, 15-7, on offensive boards. Sixers opponents have averaged 9.9 offensive rebounds this season. 

“The game plan was we’ve got to rebound the ball. I didn’t do that tonight,” Joel Embiid, who finished with seven boards, said (see highlights). “That’s one of the reasons why we lost it. I think the main thing was just offensive rebounds. They were active and they got what they wanted.”

Second-chance points
Robert Covington targeted multiple areas of improvement, one of them being second-chance points. The Lakers scored twice as many as the Sixers, 22 to 11, which tied back to their offensive rebounds and aggressiveness fighting for loose balls. 

“We’ve got to be more mindful of the way the game’s flowing and how that team plays,” Covington said. “They’re a young team, downhill … we’ve got to make sure in order for us to be successful, we have to stick to the game plan. And tonight was one time we didn’t.”

Executing the offense
Ben Simmons, who notched his third triple-double of the season (see highlights), looked at the loss from a point guard's perspective. He saw missed opportunities to get into the offensive schemes the Sixers had practiced. 

The offensive production was imbalanced between starters and the bench. Richaun Holmes was the only reserve to score the entire game. He had two points through three quarters before netting 11 in the fourth. 

“I think it’s just calling the right sets and then knowing where the ball needs to be and know what we need to run,” Simmons said. “That’s what it really comes down to.”

Turnovers
In a game like this, it goes without saying the Sixers needed to limit turnovers. They committed 18, which led to 25 points or nearly a quarter of the Lakers' total. Embiid, Simmons and JJ Redick each had four turnovers. 

Joel Embiid has trouble with mask, not Heat in Sixers' Game 3 win

Joel Embiid has trouble with mask, not Heat in Sixers' Game 3 win

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MIAMI — "We're not here to make friends. We're here to win the series." 

With those two sentences, Joel Embiid made it known what he is all about in the playoffs.

The big man fought to return from an orbital fracture to help the Sixers win, and that’s exactly what he did in his first game since March 28. Embiid led the team with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal over 30 minutes in his NBA postseason debut … while wearing a mask with goggles (see story)

“I was excited,” Embiid said following the Sixers’ 128-108 victory Thursday in Game 3 (see observations). “Worked really hard for it. Promised the city that and made it happen. I was kind of sad that I couldn’t play in that first at home because we have a special connection. But I’m glad, came back today and we got a win.” 

Embiid sent a message — he is back, and not backing down. Sitting at the podium with a calm confidence, he talked about everything from his desire to return to in-game chippiness to defending his teammates. 

“I hate sitting out,” Embiid said. “I felt like it was time to come back, especially after watching how physical the game was, Game 2. I love this moment, I love being physical, I love attacking, I love contact.” 

Returning meant wearing a protective mask on his face. Though irksome in some ways, Embiid noted his game is too strong to be held back. 

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player. If the shots aren’t falling and it gets foggy or I can’t see, there’s a lot of different stuff I can do, especially defensively because I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the league.”

There was plenty of contact in Game 3, and his mask wasn’t safe from it either. At one point Embiid’s goggles landed on the court. Justise Winslow stepped on them, downplaying it after the game. 

“He kept throwing it on the ground, so I don’t know if he didn’t like it or what,” Winslow said. “But I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

Embiid didn’t quite see the situation as “throwing it on the ground.” He added an extra punch to the end of his recount. 

“Justise stepped on it and tried to break it with his hands,” Embiid said. “But little do they know is that I have about 50 of them. So it’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. 

“I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.” 

When the game was in hand, Embiid was eager to see the Sixers finish with as large a margin of victory as possible. He thought back to Game 2 when Goran Dragic scored a layup with 1.2 seconds to play, and how Jordan Clarkson had thrown a ball at Dario Saric for scoring similarly during the regular season in Cleveland. So on Thursday, Embiid wanted them to run up the scoreboard. 

“I wish I was there in that Game 2 because I was kind of pissed about it,” Embiid said. “It’s basketball. It’s always good to blow a team out. I think we were up 18 or 20. If you could get that lead up to 22, I think it’s good. I love blowing teams out. I like the fact that we did that.” 

There's less than 48 hours until the Heat will look to bounce back in Game 4 and even up the series. Embiid knows the Sixers are in for a battle. 

And he likes that. 

“Game 4, they’re going to try to do what they did at Game 2, come out and be really, really extra aggressive and try to punch us in the mouth,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to be ready for that and I’ll for sure be ready.” 

Joel Embiid's return sparks Sixers' physical Game 3 win in Miami

Joel Embiid's return sparks Sixers' physical Game 3 win in Miami

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MIAMI — Joel Embiid is 1-0 in the playoffs.

The Sixers beat the Heat, 128-108, Thursday with their mask-wearing center back in the starting lineup to take a 2-1 lead on the series. 

• Embiid made his long-awaited return, playing in his postseason debut and first game since March 28. Donning a face mask with goggles (see story), Embiid rejoined the starting lineup. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes. 

He looked eager as well as affected at times by the long layoff from the left orbital fracture and concussion. He was aggressive at getting to the line (and drawing fouls on Hassan Whiteside), but shot 10 for 15 once there. Embiid knocked down threes (3 of 4), at the same time committing a 24-second violation trying to back down to the basket. Considering how long it’s been since he played, Embiid’s conditioning looked better than expected. 

• This game was not decided until the final quarter. The Sixers led, 96-94, after three. Brett Brown started Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova and Embiid to open the fourth. That group outscored the Heat 9-1 to push the lead to 10 and change the tone of the remainder of the game. 

• First it was Kelly Olynyk. Then it was Dwyane Wade. In Game 3, Justise Winslow was the offensive spark plug off the Miami bench. Winslow scored 19 points in the first half, seven more than the Heat’s next leading scorer. He also was an agitator throughout the game, continuing to try to get under the Sixers’ skin as he had done in the previous games. Check out what happened with the goggles from Embiid’s mask.

• Justin Anderson looked like he had been waiting for this defensive assignment all season. Brown tasked him with defending Wade in the first half, and that matchup turned chippy. Anderson and Wade both were called for physical taunting technical fouls after Anderson pushed off on Wade and Wade grabbed his arm and flung him around. Anderson had played less than two minutes in the series prior to Game 3. 

• The game was physical with whistles and double techs throughout the night. Just how physical was it?

• Late in the third quarter, the Sixers rolled out the lineup of T.J. McConnell, Marco Belinelli, Anderson, Ilyasova and Embiid. None of these players are hesitant to mix things up. At one point a play culminated with Embiid and Anderson jumping up to block an Olynyk shot with the Heat forward landing on the ground. 

• Brown had planned to play Markelle Fultz more than the five minutes he clocked in Game 2. That didn’t happen. Fultz was on the court for 4:21 in the first half without a shot attempt (one rebound, one assist, two fouls). McConnell got the backup point guard minutes in the second half. 

• Game 4 will be played at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon on NBCSP in Miami.