Dwyane Wade

Sixers assistant coach Kevin Young remembers Ben Simmons, Sixers feeding of Heat's physicality in 2018

Sixers assistant coach Kevin Young remembers Ben Simmons, Sixers feeding of Heat's physicality in 2018

Aside from Joel Embiid ringing the bell before Game 1 as the Phantom of the Process and Meek Mill doing so after just being released from prison before Game 5, there was one thing that stood out during the Sixers-Heat series in 2018: It was physical. 

Luckily for the Sixers, they were prepared for it. 

“Two things really stand out from the lead-up to that series,” Sixers assistant coach Kevin Young told NBC Sports Philadelphia in a phone interview. “It was really the physicality that we knew Miami was going to bring, because that's kind of what they do, and then the physicality that the playoffs will bring, because that's what the playoffs do. … As that series played out, obviously a lot of that physicality came to fruition.”

And how.

The Sixers carried the momentum of a 16-game winning streak — led by rookie Ben Simmons — into a Game 1 drubbing of Miami in which they hit a team playoff record 18 threes. In Game 2, Dwyane Wade had a vintage performance in leading the Heat to a win to even the series.

Game 3 in Miami marked the return of Joel Embiid — and also when the series got ugly.

Embiid was playing his first ever playoff game in an “annoying” mask to protect his previously fractured orbital bone. Heat forward Justise Winslow, likely annoyed by Embiid’s brashness and caught up in the intensity of the series, stomped on Embiid’s mask at one point. This was also the game where Justin Anderson — remember him? — got locked up with Wade and the players were called for double technicals.

The physicality of the Heat and the NBA playoffs, just as the Sixers had planned for, had gotten real.

That also ignited Simmons, who had elevated his play during the Sixers’ streak and was having a coming out party during this series.

“Ben's a guy that thrives on physical play,” Young said. “Even that year and as we've moved forward since then, he's consistently been one of our best screeners. He loves using his strength to free teammates up, using his ability to rebound as a strong, big, athletic guy. So he fed off it. In that series, I think it fueled him a little bit and that type of environment is where he can really shine as opposed to sometimes when teams play off him and things like that.”

While the physical play and theatrics may have grabbed all the headlines, it was a series with plenty of momentum-changing shots. Whether it was Josh Richardson, then a member of the Heat, making “a lot of timely shots” or Dario Saric making a big three to help seal Game 3, those are the plays that stick out to Young.

One that stood out to Young above the rest was a shot in Game 4, which NBC Sports Philadelphia will re-air Tuesday night. For as physical and competitive as the series was at the time, this was truly the only close game.

The Sixers shot just 7 of 31 from three and Simmons and Embiid combined for 15 turnovers. They found themselves down four going into the fourth quarter and staring down going back to Philadelphia with the series tied 2-2.

Then, led by Simmons and Embiid, the Sixers took their defense up a notch in the fourth, opening up a six-point lead with a little over two minutes left. Just when it seemed like Wade may deliver the same magic he did in Game 2 by getting the Heat to within one, JJ Redick made a huge shot with 30.1 seconds left to put the Sixers back up three.

Though Simmons did turn the ball over a bunch in Game 4, he still finished with a triple-double and four steals. Throughout the five games, he was superb.

Watching Simmons in that series, you sort of forgot he was just a rookie.

“One thing with Ben that I think the whole group would probably say has always been impressive with him," Young said, "is he's never been a guy who really gets fazed by much. Obviously, you guys see it from your seat, too. He's very stoic, and not a lot of things rattle him. With that kind of makeup, it's like he's kind of built for some of these moments, and I thought that kind of showed itself in his first series.”

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Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O’Neal was at the height of his very substantial powers in the 2001 NBA Finals. He averaged 33 points, 15.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in the Lakers’ five-game series victory and was a simple choice for MVP.

However, the Sixers took a Game 1 that Philadelphia fans will remember for a long time, led by Allen Iverson’s 48 points. O’Neal revealed on The Adam Lefkoe Show podcast that he was perhaps a little lenient toward Iverson. 

I have a little confession. D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] probably knows this,” he said. “There were four guys that when we played them, I was such a fan, I would let them do what they wanted to do. White Chocolate [Jason Williams] — I wanted him to go to work — Vince Carter, AI and Tracy McGrady. Every time we played AI … I could have blocked his shot multiple times.

“I just didn’t want to. I kind of coasted that year in the Finals where we wanted to go 16-0. We let him hit us for [48]. Listen, Iverson, he had his heart on the line, he played hard, he did it his way. I was glad to go into the Hall of Fame with him. It’s unfortunate that a lot of these great players will be judged because they didn’t win [a championship]. But listen, he’s one of the greatest to ever do it.

Given O’Neal’s 44-point, 20-rebound Game 1 performance, the notion of him taking it easy on Iverson is difficult to buy. Still, it’s evident he has a deep respect for Iverson. Wade and Candace Parker are very much in the same boat — both players chose No. 3 for that reason.

At All-Star Weekend in February, Wade crossed paths with Iverson and the two shared an emotional moment weeks after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.

“I couldn’t do anything but embrace and tell him how much I appreciate him, tell him how much I love him,” Wade said on the podcast. “As I’ve always said, it was [Michael] Jordan, Kobe and Iverson for me. Those are the three players that I modeled my game after — that’s who I wanted to be like. I wore No. 3 probably because of Allen Iverson. … I just thanked him. It was just a good embrace that we both needed at that moment.”

A two-time WNBA MVP and five-time All-Star, Parker had a unique story on the origin of her admiration for Iverson. Her older brother, Anthony Parker, began his professional career with the Sixers in the 1997-98 season.

“I remember one day my brother came home from a game and he handed me Allen Iverson’s finger bands,” Parker said. “I wore the Allen Iverson finger bands all the way through high school. … I was obsessed with him. I remember when I met him, he was the first person I met that he shook my hand and I had no words.”

Both Parker and Wade are convinced Iverson would have benefited from the way the NBA has changed since his retirement. They cited the load management movement as one factor — Iverson led the league in minutes per game seven times and played at least 39.4 minutes a night in each of his first 12 seasons. The two also believe that the league's shift away from big men and increase in pace would have suited Iverson’s game. 

“AI’s one of the greatest players of all time,” Parker said. 

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Watch Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade share vulnerable All-Star moment over Kobe

Watch Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade share vulnerable All-Star moment over Kobe

A huge portion of the weekend's NBA All-Star Game was dedicated to remembering Lakers legend and Philly-area native Kobe Bryant, from the touching pre-game tribute to the players' jersey numbers.

There were plenty of Bryant jerseys among the weekend's attendees, too, including Sixers legend Allen Iverson, who sported a No. 8 yellow Bryant jersey during Sunday's All-Star Game.

Iverson was interacting with some fans at the United Center in Chicago when he bumped into Dwyane Wade, and the two shared a beautifully unscripted, vulnerable moment. Incredibly, one fan captured the scene, and video of the two legends' interaction surfaced Tuesday afternoon:

That's something special.

Wade and Iverson's NBA careers overlapped for seven years, including six shared All-Star Games. Bryant entered the league the same year as Iverson, and Wade made his final All-Star Game the year Bryant retired.

The three spent so much shared time in the league, creating their own stories and navigating their own paths, and it's an absolute tragedy that Bryant wasn't in Chicago this past weekend to enjoy yet another show from the league's stars.

Moments like this one help remind fans that, while players like Bryant, Wade, and Iverson often seem superhuman, they're ultimately people like us, and they process grief just like we do.

Good on Wade and Iverson for being there for each other.

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