Paul Hudrick

After being listed as doubtful, Joel Embiid dominates Nets in Sixers' Game 4 win

After being listed as doubtful, Joel Embiid dominates Nets in Sixers' Game 4 win

NEW YORK — So far this postseason, there is no way to predict if Joel Embiid will play in a playoff game.

He was doubtful in Game 1, but played. He was questionable in Game 2 and played. He was questionable and said his knee was feeling better pregame, but didn’t play in Game 3.

So naturally, with him being listed as doubtful, he played and was absolutely magnificent in the Sixers’ 112-108 Game 4 win over the Nets at Barclays Center Saturday (see observations).

After playing just 10 minutes in the first half, Embiid played 21 of 24 minutes in the second half. He finished with 31 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks. The only other player to put up that stat line in a playoff game is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974, per Basketball-Reference.

“Just look at the magnitude of what the numbers say, the influence that the numbers say he must’ve had on a game,” Brett Brown said. “It’s hard to sort of say it any better than that. He was dominant. 

“There are times you could see it’s still raw. There are some decisions that he would probably like to have over again, but given the volume of playing time lately that he hasn’t had, it’s just a dominant performance. What more can you say?”

Beyond the numbers, Embiid was a force on both ends of the floor. His physical presence has been tough for the Nets to handle, especially young center Jarrett Allen.

Embiid was assessed a Flagrant 1 in Game 2 after delivering an elbow to the neck of Allen when making a move to the basket. On Saturday, Allen drove to the rim and was met by Embiid who was called for a foul. Veteran Jared Dudley, who’s become public enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia, took exception to the contact and charged after Embiid. Jimmy Butler in turn rushed at Dudley.

Butler and Dudley were both given double technicals and ejected while Embiid received yet another Flagrant 1. It’s worth noting that the league uses a point system with flagrant fouls. Embiid is up to two points. Four points and he’ll get an automatic one-game suspension, though the league could rescind the Flagrant 1 from Saturday.

Embiid was adamant postgame that he got “all ball.” 

“I’m not that type of player,” Embiid said. “Any chance that I get I try to go for the ball and if I feel like I made a mistake, I always apologize. At the same time, that’s also a mind game. l know these guys are going to go at me because they want me to retaliate so I got to be the mature one on the court and just stay cool and not react. Today I knew I could’ve reacted but I felt like my team needed me more than [the Nets] needed Jared Dudley.”

That’s an understatement — especially on Saturday.

The Sixers were able to win Game 3 without Embiid with Boban Marjanovic having his third consecutive standout performance. Marjanovic came down to earth in a big way in Game 4. Brown also tried plugging in rookie Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe to buy Embiid more rest. It didn’t work out.

Brown was forced to ride his All-Star big man, who always seems to be in the middle of the action.

“He’s got a spirit about him — that’s the word I choose to use,” Brown said. “There’s a belief, there’s a swagger, there’s a spirit — choose whatever word you want. He’s got that persona. And then you say well, he’s incredibly physical. You take 7-foot-2 and you have that sort of dynamic personality and kind of the way you live your life and play basketball and you’re completely physical and highly competitive. It produces environments like that. 

“As his coach, you kind of wouldn’t trade it for much. It’s a rare combination that he has with his skill and his personality and his sort of innate competitiveness.”

What’s crazy is for as dominant as Embiid is on the offensive end, you can make the argument he’s even better on defense. He was otherworldly in this one with those six blocks and providing outstanding help defense all afternoon. 

With the way Ben Simmons has been playing against D’Angelo Russell in this series, the combination of Embiid and Simmons has neutralized Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll — not a sentence anyone expected to be typing while the Sixers were getting scorched in Atlanta by Trae Young just a few weeks ago.

But that was the regular season. The postseason is a completely different animal as the young Nets are finding out the hard way.

There is one thing that hasn’t changed from the regular season for the Sixers. The offensive strategy remains the same.

Get the ball to Embiid.

“The game plan has always been the same,” Embiid said. “I just got to be aggressive. These guys are trying to find me any ways they can … just got to play through the system. They want me to be aggressive. Any time [Brown] gets a chance to post me, he does it. For me, it’s just about being aggressive all the time and they do a great job finding me.”

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Sixers thrive in physical playoff atmosphere in Game 4, have Nets on brink of elimination

Sixers thrive in physical playoff atmosphere in Game 4, have Nets on brink of elimination

NEW YORK — Now, that was a playoff game.

After three games that weren’t very close on the scoreboard and didn’t boast much in the physicality department, Game 4 between the Sixers and Nets was a doozy.

From transcendent play to a fight that led to ejections to a few late-game heroics, the Sixers’ 112-108 win in Brooklyn Saturday afternoon had everything you could’ve wanted in a postseason basketball game (see observations).

Although nothing crazy had occurred, you could feel tension building with Jared Dudley. He’d called out Ben Simmons multiple times — which hasn’t worked out too well — and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has used the veteran as an energy-type player off his bench. Atkinson opted to use Dudley in the starting lineup Saturday with explosive results. 

With 7:42 left in the third quarter, Jarrett Allen went up for a shot that was contested by Joel Embiid. Dudley, who thought the contact was excessive, ran and pushed Embiid in the back. Jimmy Butler wasted little time in coming to the defense of his big man, shoving Dudley (see video)

When the dust settled, Embiid was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul, his second of the playoffs on Allen, and Butler and Dudley were both ejected. That’s a hell of a trade-off for the Nets, but it did fire up Embiid, who was brilliant on Saturday, recording 31 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks in 31 minutes.

I for sure fed off of that. The fact that he had my back and, like I said, I’m going to pay that fine. That was great to see. You know Mike [Scott] has kind of been doing that all season. I’m sure if he was on the court and then someone would’ve pushed me, he’s always tenacious and has our back. Tonight, it was Jimmy so it’s a great to see that. You play with guys that care about you, that have your back and I don’t have to do anything else but just go back and have their back and that’s by dominating and trying to get us a win.

Embiid is definitely right about Scott. Scott has come to the defense of his teammates on multiple occasions since coming over at the trade deadline from the Clippers. He’s made it known he’s not a man to be trifled with.

But in this game, Scott and Butler sort of traded roles. While it was Butler who stood up for Embiid, it was Scott who played hero in the fourth quarter. With just 19.7 seconds left and the Sixers trailing 108-107, Scott nailed a corner three off a broken play that put the team up for good.

Scott is a man of few words, but when he does speak, he’s candid and it’s usually entertaining. He described the melee in the third as “great basketball” and was short and sweet in describing his huge late-game trey.

My job was just to space the floor and be a decoy. Tobias [Harris] tried to get it to Jo and I think the pass got deflected. Jo made a hell of a hustle play, saw me in the corner … cashed out.

On the next possession, the Sixers smothered Allen down low as Ben Simmons ripped the ball out of the big man’s hands. 

It was just another impressive example of the Sixers’ physical dominance over the Nets so far in this series.

“I thought as a team we had a physical play at the end where Ben ended up just kind of taking the ball and Tobias hit those free throws,” Brett Brown said. “Defensively, to hold that team to 17 fourth-quarter points in a game that’s clearly an important game for both of us. I thought our defense rose to another level in the fourth period when it mattered most.”

The Sixers went from dropping Game 1 to being on the brink of ending this thing in five games when the teams return to the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night.

How can the Sixers pull off their fourth straight win and eliminate the Nets?

“Stay physical. Get them off the three. Get them uncomfortable,” Scott said. “Just make shots, play in front of that crowd and end it.”

The man doesn’t mess around and neither have the Sixers over the last three games.

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Sixers 112, Nets 108: Joel Embiid otherworldly, Mike Scott makes game-winning three-pointer as Sixers take wild Game 4

Sixers 112, Nets 108: Joel Embiid otherworldly, Mike Scott makes game-winning three-pointer as Sixers take wild Game 4

BOX SCORE 

NEW YORK — It was never in doubt.

Led by an otherworldly Joel Embiid, the Sixers took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a thrilling 112-108 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center Saturday afternoon.

JJ Redick, who struggled for much of the game, hit a huge three to give the Sixers a 107-106 lead with 50 seconds left. Then Joe Harris, who has had a nightmare of a series, hit a backdoor layup with 25 seconds left to give Brooklyn a 108-107 lead.

Mike Scott, who also hasn’t had the best series, nailed a corner three with 18.6 left to put the Sixers up 110-108. The Sixers then smothered Jarrett Allen underneath as Ben Simmons just ripped the ball out of his hands. Tobias Harris hit a pair of free throws to seal the win.

Listed as doubtful coming in, Embiid was spectacular in every aspect of the game and willed his team to a win.

The Sixers will have a chance to punch their ticket to the second round Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are observations from the win:

• We were waiting for this series to get a little extra physical and we got that and then some in the third quarter. Embiid committed a hard foul on Allen. Then Jared Dudley went after Embiid. Jimmy Butler then came to the defense of Embiid and shoved Dudley.

When the dust settled, Embiid got called for a dubious Flagrant 1 foul and Butler and Dudley were both given double technicals and ejected. That’s a trade-off the Nets will take any day of the week. Butler was having a strong game up until that point as well. The Sixers also could’ve used Butler in the fourth quarter with the game still close.

• We should all probably stop guessing whether Embiid is going to play. He played and looked strong early. He made his first two buckets from the top of the key and hit a midrange jumper and short hook shot. He made two sensational passes out of double teams, finding two open corner threes — a Scott miss and Butler make. It’s something Embiid has improved on tremendously.

Defensively, this guy is just ridiculous. The combo of Simmons and Embiid in the pick-and-roll on defense hasn’t ended well for the Nets in this series. Embiid had three blocks in the first half alone. He played just 10 minutes and was a plus-8 before halftime.

He was phenomenal Saturday, finishing with 31 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and seven assists in 31 minutes.

The chemistry between the pair was strong again on offense as Embiid spotted Simmons on doubles multiple times. Simmons was solid again, recording 15 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.

• Nets coach Kenny Atkinson knows he’s not going to win a defensive battle with the Sixers. With that in mind, he inserted Caris LeVert into the starting lineup. LeVert scored the first bucket of the game on his way to 11 first-quarter points. He gave Brooklyn juice early on, helping the Nets get out to a nine-point lead after one.

LeVert (25 points) and reserve guard Spencer Dinwiddie (18 points) sparked the Nets in a big way, while D’Angelo Russell (6 of 19 for 21 points) and Joe Harris (4 of 14 for 10 points) continued to struggle.

The other change was inserting Dudley. It was a much smaller starting five without DeMarre Carroll and Rodions Kurucs. Dudley and Simmons did share some words after an early timeout, but nothing came out of it.

• It’s noticeable that Brett Brown has listened more and more to his players. You saw a bunch of pick-and-rolls with Butler and Harris featured as the ball handlers. It’s not a staple of Brown’s offense, but it is something both Butler and Harris excel in. It’s also something the Nets struggle to defend.

Both players got off to strong starts, as Harris posted a team-high 14 points in the first half and Butler had 11. They had three assists each as well.

Harris seems to be getting more and more time at the point, and he seems to be relishing that role. He had 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He was 0 for 4 from three after hitting 6 of 6 in Game 3.

• Unfortunately, Boban Marjanovic came back down to earth early on in this one. Brooklyn was able to expose him, most noticeably Allen, who hasn’t matched up against Marjanovic much. This was Allen’s most productive game of the series. The second-year big had 21 points.

In a game in which the Sixers seemed very wary of Embiid’s minutes in the first half, Brown had trouble finding a solution with Marjanovic struggling. Rookie Jonah Bolden came in and looked like a rookie —  he played three minutes and was a minus-6. Greg Monroe didn’t fare much better in his quick stint.

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